Dairy Ice Cream

Ethical shopping guide to Dairy ice cream, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Dairy ice cream, from Ethical Consumer.

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This report includes:

  • ethical and environmental ratings of 56 brands
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • organic ice cream
  • palm oil scores
  • cocoa sourcing ratings


See also the guide to Dairy-Free Ice Cream >

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of Sept/Oct 2015

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.

The Best Buys for dairy ice cream are Roskilly’s and Yeo Valley, which are both organic.

We have not been able to cover all of the small independent UK ice cream brands in this guide. In terms of reducing ‘food miles’ and supporting your local economy, it is best to buy direct from farm shops and local businesses – providing cattle are organically managed and other ice cream ingredients are sustainably sourced.

to buy

Image: Yeo Ice Cream


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Special Report

We take a look at the issue of Palm Oil


Dairy ice cream



Factory farming


Milk and cream are essential ingredients for making dairy ice creams. Unless you chose an organic-certified ice cream, you cannot be sure of high animal welfare standards.

Many non-organic companies receive a Factory Farming mark for the prevalence of intensive farming techniques like zero grazing in the dairy industry. See the Butter guide.


image ice cream in ethical shopping guide 








Organic certification also provides a consumer-facing guarantee that cattle have not been fed genetically modified animal feed, as organic certification prohibits the use of GMOs. According to the Food Standards Agency’s website ‘almost all’ the soya produced by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and the USA (the major soya producers) is genetically modified, as is ‘much of’ the maize imported from the USA.

As the EU animal feed industry currently imports approximately 70% of its maize, soya and rapeseed requirements, it becomes increasingly hard to ensure that GMO animal feed is excluded from the dairy supply chain.

Companies have therefore lost a half mark for the likely use of GMO animal feed if their products contain uncertified dairy. They also lose a whole mark in the Animal Rights category.



Organic brands


Organic brands are free from GMOs and factory farming. Roskilly’s, Yeo Valley, Cream O’Galloway, Green & Blacks and Waitrose Duchy Organic ice creams all only use organic milk, as does Mackie’s organic ice cream variety. See also dairy-free ice cream.



Palm oil


The devastating impacts associated with unsustainable palm oil production may be added to your ice cream’s ingredients. Palm oil commonly coats toffee and butterscotch pieces, and is often used as a cheap source of fat and as an emulsifier in budget ice creams – especially those that have had lots of air whipped into them. Emulsifiers help to keep milk fat evenly dispersed during freezing and storage, which helps to stabilise the air incorporated into the ice cream, providing a smooth frozen desert.

A general rule of thumb for avoiding palm oil: avoid poor quality ice creams with long ingredients lists!


Palm oil scores




Alder Tree


Cream O'Galloway



Ben & Jerry's, Walls


Green & Black's




Yeo Valley


Kelly's of Cornwall



St Helens

Bally Bleat, Mullins

Loseley, Yorkshire Dales, Thayers, Beechdean

palm oil free

palm oil free





















Key: Scored out of 20.
Best (14-20)     Middle (8-13)    Worst (0-7)



Bitter sweet sugar


Sugar-related health issues are predicted to cost the NHS £9.7 billion per year by 2050, “with wider costs to society and business projected to reach £49.9 billion per year.”[5] Sugar production is also associated with numerous environmental issues, poor workers’ rights and land grabs.

Although sugar is considered to be an essential ice cream ingredient, some companies are experimenting with alternatives.



Exploiting the taste buds


Along with cocoa, vanilla has been linked to forced child labour, specifically in Madagascar. As always, buying certified products is the simplest method of ensuring you vote for improving workers’ rights standards, with Fairtrade certification generally considered the best standard currently available.

In relation to the UK ice cream market, the Soil Association’s organic certification is the most commonly used standard, which includes a clause on workers’ rights and child labour.

Of the companies making chocolate ice cream, Yeo Valley, Roskilly’s and the Co-op achieve best ratings for cocoa sourcing.

Although we haven’t rated companies specifically on their vanilla sourcing practices, Fairtrade and organic certified vanilla ice creams are the recommended Ethical Consumer choice.




Company profiles


With a huge share of 46%, Unilever dominates the ice cream market.

In 2013 Vermonters For a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel (VTJP) launched a campaign against Ben & Jerry’s “to stop marketing, catering and selling ice cream in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Two years on and the company still refuses to break its ties with Israeli settlements, resulting in VTJP calling for a boycott of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.[2] Read more about the boycott against Ben & Jerry's

Unilever buys approximately 1% of the cocoa produced globally, 95% of which is used in its ice creams. In its Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has committed to sourcing all cocoa for its Magnum ice cream sustainably by the end of 2015, and for all other cocoa to be sustainably sourced by 2020.


R&R Ice Cream Ltd accounts for 10% of the UK ice cream industry, with licensing agreements with Nestlé, Cadbury and Britvic to manufacture their ice creams. R&R is owned by the Paris-based private equity firm PAI Partners, which has investments in the automotive industry and Labeyrie Fine Foods, a company that sells foie gras. The production of foie gras involves the force feeding of ducks or geese via pipes rammed down throats, resulting in the swelling of livers to ten times their normal size, and physical disabilities. Overcrowded living conditions are also common in foie gras production. For further information visit peta.org.


Beechdean Dairies, considered the 3rd largest ice cream manufacturer in the UK, has financial and personnel links to the automotive industry through Beechdean Motorsport Limited. Beechdean scored a worst for its supply chain management, as did the majority of other companies covered in this report.


Companies that scored a best for their supply chain management included a number of small independent companies such as Roskilly’s, Alder Tree.


General Mills, owner of the luxury Haagen Dazs brand, has been involved in an ongoing row over whether ice cream should be sold by volume or by weight. The UK has traditionally sold ice cream by volume, which Haagen Dazs claims is misleading for consumers due to the lack of regulation governing the amount of air added to ice cream. Sold by weight, a Haagen Dazs tub looks more reasonable cost-wise compared to a Walls tub, for example, and a high air content is also associated with the increased use of stabilisers and emulsifiers. Unilever has naturally opposed any changes, claiming that more air in an ice cream reduces calorie intake.4
General Mills contributed $365,267 in political donations in the USA in 2014 and is a member of a number of corporate lobby groups, including the Business Roundtable for Sustainable Development and The US Council for International Business.


Mullins Ice Cream is a member of the United Dairy Farmers Ltd, ‘the UK’s leading dairy co-operative owned by farmer members in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland’. It received a positive Company Ethos score for being a co-operative.




2 Mark Hage, Time to Boycott Ben & Jerry’s, 18/5/2015, s.coop/1wpcn 

3 RSPO Cleans House of Companies Failing to Meet Standards; NGOs Applaud, 9/3/2015, s.coop/1wpcp 

4 s.coop/1wpcq

5 Burrell A, Himics M, Van Doorslaer B, Ciaian P and Shrestha S, 2014, EU Sugar Policy: A Sweet Transition After 2015?, Report EUR 26530 EN, JRC Scientific and Policy Reports, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/default/files/jrc_tr_sugar_study_pubsy_v6.pdf



This product guide is part of a Special Report on Palm Oil. See what's in the rest of the report.






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