Dairy-free Ice Cream

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 18 non-dairy ice cream brands.

We also look at palm oil, animal rights, shine a spotlight on the ethics of R&R Ice Cream and give our recommended buys.

About 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying dairy-free ice cream:

  • Is it organic? For agricultural workers and local people, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic bananas.

  • Is it a vegan company? Choosing a vegan product may be easier than finding a vegan company. Several of the companies that own brands in this guide have been linked to animal rights issues from animal testing to the production of foie gras. Look for a completely vegan company.

  • Is it local? 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.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are all organic and palm oil free:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying dairy-free ice cream:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or avoid it completely.

  • Profits over people? 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. 

  • Is it grown using pesticides? Made from petroleum, chemical pesticides threaten bee populations, contaminate water sources, and cause large-scale destruction of habitats. Look for organic to avoid bananas grown with these chemicals. 

Companies to avoid

Hain Celestial may own a number of ‘cruelty free’ cosmetics brands such as Alba Botanica, but it is also involved in the production of “All Natural, Antibiotic Free, Vegetarian Fed, Humanely Raised Poultry” through its subsidiary Hain Pure Protein Corporation. If you are vegan, you might want to avoid its brand:

  • Almond Dream

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Booja Booja non-dairy ice cream [A,O]

Company Profile: Booja Booja Co Ltd
17

Jollyum icecream [A] [O]

Company Profile: Jollyum Ltd
16.5

Real Nice Ice Lollies [O]

Company Profile: Real Nice Organic
16

CO YO Ice Cream [A]

Company Profile: PLANET COCONUT LTD
14.5

Oatly ice cream [A]

Company Profile: Oatly AB
13.5

Snowconut [A]

Company Profile: The Coconut Collaborative
13

Zen Zen ice cream [A]

Company Profile: ZENZEN FOOD LTD
13

It's only natural ice lolly [A]

Company Profile: IT'S ONLY NATURAL LIMITED
12.5

Okobay ice cream [A]

Company Profile: OKOBAY VENTURES LTD
12

Toffuti non-dairy ice cream [A]

Company Profile: Triano Brands Ltd
12

Food Heaven ice cream [A]

Company Profile: THE FAYREFIELD GROUP LTD
11.5

Fruit shoot Ice Lolly

Company Profile: R&R Ice Cream Ltd
9

R- Whites ice lolly

Company Profile: R&R Ice Cream Ltd
9

Almond Dream ice cream

Company Profile: Hain Daniels Group
6.5

M & S coconut milk icecream [A]

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5.5

Rowntree Fruit Pastille ice lolly

2

Swedish Glace [A]

Company Profile: Unilever UK Ltd
2

Tesco Free From Ice Cream

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Dairy-free options for ice creams are increasing, along with the ever widening use and experimentation of plant milks. Soya-based iced desserts have been joined by cashew nut, coconut, almond, oat, fruit and even hemp frozen desserts.

We have covered the main dairy-free ice creams. Many more dairy-free options exist, but distribution of products appears limited. If you come across any products not covered in this guide, look for certified organic or Fairtrade options and check the ingredients.

Coconut products are becoming increasingly popular, and in many instances are being used as an alternative to palm oil. Companies that use coconut as a core ingredient in at least one of their dairy-free ice creams include CO YO, Snowconut, Okobay, Zen Zen, Marks and Spencer and Booja Booja.

However, just as with palm oil, for a food product’s environmental and social impacts to be minimised, its raw ingredients should be sustainably sourced and avoid harmful agricultural practices. 

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!

Dairy-free ice cream companies that are palm oil-free are Booja Booja, Jollyum, Real Nice, Planet Coconut, The Coconut Collaborative, Zen Zen, It’s Only Natural and Okobay.

Palm Oil Scores

Key: Scored out of 20. Best (14-20) Middle (8-13) Worst (0-7)
Booja Booja palm oil free
Jollyum palm oil free
Real Nice palm oil free
CO YO palm oil free
Snowconut palm oil free
Zen Zen palm oil free
It's only natural palm oil free
Okobay palm oil free
M&S 14
Swedish Glace 14
Rowntree Fruit Pastille 11
Toffuti 10
Oatly 10
Tesco 8
R Whites, Fruitshoot 5
Food Heaven 0
Almond Dream 0

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.”[1] 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. Booja Booja sweetens its iced desserts with agave syrup for example, and It's Only Natural only uses frozen fruit to make its ice lollies.

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, Booja Booja, CO YO, Oatly, Jollyum 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 Profile

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.

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If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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References

  1. 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