Dairy Ice Cream

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 56 ice cream brands.

We also look at palm oil, animal rights, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Unilever 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 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 ice cream.

  • 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.

  • Is it dairy free? Looking for vegan ice cream is a way to help protect the environment as well as animal rights.

Best Buys

Our Best Buys 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.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying ice cream:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Ice cream often contains palm oil, so look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or state that they're palm oil free.

  • Is it factory farmed? Intensive farming keeps animals in cramped conditions, and causes high levels of emissions. Look for a dairy-free or free-range option to help protect the environmental and animal rights.

  • Is it GMO free? Genetically modified seeds and crops bind growers to powerful multinationals producing agricultural chemicals. These companies have been criticised for seriously exploiting small-scale farmers. Look for organic to be sure that you are avoiding GMOs.

Companies to avoid

Not only does Unilever score poorly on our table, its most famous ice cream brand, Ben & Jerry's, has a boycott call against it for conducting business in Israeli settlements in Palestine. We would recommend avoiding its brands:

  • Ben & Jerry's
  • Carte D'Or
  • Magnum
  • Solero
  • Wall's

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Roskilly's icecream [O]

Company Profile: ROSKILLY'S LIMITED
15

Yeo Valley Organic ice cream [O]

Company Profile: Yeo Valley Farms (Production) Ltd
13.5

Cream O'Galloway ice cream

Company Profile: Cream O'Galloway Dairy Co Ltd
12.5

Alder Tree icecream

Company Profile: Alder Tree Ltd
12

Bally Bleat

Company Profile: Mullins ice cream
9.5

Mullins ice cream

Company Profile: Mullins ice cream
9.5

Mackie's organic dairy ice cream [O]

Company Profile: Mackies Ltd
9

St Helens Goat Milk Ice Cream

Company Profile: St Helens Farm
9

Thaymar ice cream

Company Profile: Thaymar Ltd
9

Mackie's dairy ice cream

Company Profile: Mackies Ltd
8

Beechdean Farmhouse Dairy

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Cheshire Dairy Ice Cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Cornish Country Fresh Ice Cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Granelli ice cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Loseley Ice Cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Thayers Ice Cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Waitrose Duchy organic ice cream [O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
7.5

Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream

Company Profile: Beechdean Dairies Ltd
7.5

Kelly's of Cornwall ice cream tubs

Company Profile: R&R Ice Cream Ltd
6

Co-op ice cream

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
5

M & S Ice cream

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5

Haagen Dazs ice cream outside USA

Company Profile: General Mills Inc
4

Cadbury's ice cream

Company Profile: R&R Ice Cream Ltd
3.5

Waitrose ice cream

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
3.5

Ben & Jerry's Fairtrade ice cream [F]

Company Profile: Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc.
3

Bounty ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Galaxy ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Green & Black's organic ice cream [O]

Company Profile: Green & Blacks Limited
3

Maltesers ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Mars ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Snickers ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Twix ice cream

Company Profile: Mars Inc
3

Sainsbury's ice cream

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Ben & Jerry's ice cream

Company Profile: Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc.
2

Carte D'Or

Company Profile: Unilever
2

Magnum

Company Profile: Unilever
2

Morrisons ice cream

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2

Solero ice cream

Company Profile: Unilever
2

Wall's ice cream & lollies

Company Profile: Unilever UK Ltd
2

Fab

1.5

Lion bar ice cream

1.5

Lyons Maid tubs

1.5

Nestle Ice Cream & lollies

1.5

The Skinny Cow iced dessert

1.5

Tesco finest ice cream

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Tesco ice cream

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda ice cream

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

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.

GMOs

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

Key: Scored out of 20. Best (14-20) Middle (8-13) Worst (0-7)
Roskily's palm oil free
Thaymar palm oil free
Alder Tree 16
Waitrose 15
Cream O'Galloway 14
Co-op 14
M&S 14
Ben & Jerry's, Wall's 14
Green & Black's 13
Sainsbury's 12
Mars 12
Cadbury 11
Nestlé 11
Yeo Valley 10
Morrisons 9
Kelly's of Cornwall 9
Tesco 8
Mackies 2
St Helen's 0
Bally Bleat, Mullins 0
Loseley, Yorkshire Dales, Thayers, Beechdean 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.” 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 profile

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. 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.

Want to know more?

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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