On  a  summer  day  there  is nothing  like a  cool, creamy treat  to beat  the  heat.  But for vegans or those who were cursed with lactose intolerance (such as myself), ice cream has been but  a dream. Even for those who can have dairy, the cold reality is that if you want  an  organic option that is also “healthier,” the options have been slim to none, or should I say none that are too slim?

But those days are over. At Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California there were many cool alternatives including gluten free and dairy-free options,   a   new   lowfat line of organic premium ice creams, wine-infused sorbets—and even a nutrient-packed ice cream designed to  offer  frosty option to ready-to-drink meal replacements shakes.

Non-Dairy Decadence

According to  SPINS data, which tracks sales in  the natural channel and other retail outlets, sales of non- dairy organic frozen desserts have increased 12 percent in the last year, which is more than double the amount of growth in from 2011 to 2012. Within this category, coconut milk-based ice cream is driving much of this growth.

Coconut milk ice cream is the closest to dairy ice cream due to its naturally higher fat content, says Marc Donofrio, marketing director at Luna and  Larry’s Coconut  Bliss, the company that launched the first coconut milk ice cream in the U.S. in 2004. “Other options such as rice, soy or even almond milk, often need to add oil, gums and fillers to create a creamy consistency,” says Donofrio. “Coconut milk has the natural creamy consistency of  dairy but healthier medium-chain fatty acids.”

At Expo West, Coconut Bliss launched a decadent new Salted Caramel &  Chocolate coconut milk “ice cream”— offering the first vegan version of this popular foodie flavor. With its new Strawberry Love bars, however, Coconut Bliss decided to buck the trend. Unlike practically  every other strawberry frozen dessert on the market (even in the natural category),  this   option   has no added colors or flavors, allowing the real perfectly- ripened berry flavor to come through.

NadaMoo, offers a coconut milk ice cream indulgence for the  more  calorie conscious, with  only  130  calories per serving and less fat and carbohydrates than  many other brands. Recently NadaMoo released two flavors Chocolate  Almond  Chip and Sweet Cherry Lime. While these desserts have less calories, they pack in chunks of  goodies. “Research shows that we are diggers by nature when it comes to consuming ice  cream,  so  we  filled these with lots of almonds, chocolate chips and cherries so customers stay happy,” says Daniel Nicholson, CEO.

In the novelties category, ice cream innovation leader, Julie’s Organic,  an  Oregon Ice Cream Company brand, launched the first-ever organic gluten-free, dairy- free cookie sandwich in  the U.S., and possibly the world. Made with vanilla coconut ice cream and Glutenfreeda’s gluten free chocolate cookies, this is a dream come true for many with food intolerances. Julie’s also added a gluten-free (but  not  dairy-free) orange sherbet sandwich to  its line up as well.

Another of Julie’s non-dairy debuts at Expo West included a line of sorbets made with USDA certified organic wines from the award-winning Frey Vineyards in California. The sophisticated flavors in  this line included Cranberry Pinot Noir, Strawberry Chardonnay and Blueberry Zinfandel.

Moo-ving to Healthier Options

There were also more health conscious organic dairy options. Alden’s, another Oregon Ice Cream brand, recently brought the first family-sized light  premium organic ice cream to U.S. markets—offering  less calories  while still delivering a creamy, rich mouth feel.

While Alden’s has been focused   on    less,   Straus Creamery has been focused on adding more…more nutrients. Strauss’s NuScoop  is sure to be one of biggest game changers introduced into the frozen dessert category. Designed to offer a “nutritionally complete ice cream”—with 25 vitamins and minerals in each serving, as well as 6g of protein and 2g of fiber—it resembles a meal replacement shake or  energy bar more than a dessert.

This    low-glycemic,  low-cholesterol, frozen dairy dessert includes   healthful   organic oils such as ghee and virgin coconut  oil,  which  support increased metabolism. It also incorporates a blend of low- glycemic sweeteners including agave for sustained energy and whey protein for strong bones and   muscles.  The   concept and   patents for NuScoop originated with the pioneers of organic baby foods, Ron and Arnie Koss, founders of Earth’s Best Baby Food, who worked with Straus to develop the product.

With  all  these new options now available, there will likely be something cool in the freezer section for everyone this summer! Retailers,  keep an eye on the ice cream isle for more alternatives, as this section is bound to be a hot area of growth.