Sep 11, 2023 - Technology

What's hot? Ice

A cocktail with ice that has flowers frozen into it.

Ice cubes with frozen nasturtiums and gem marigolds are an example of the frozen strangeness people are finding in their drinks. Photo: Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Ice — in exotically shaped cubes, boozy popsicles or suffusing your coffee — is having its moment in the zeitgeist.

Why it matters: During a record hot summer when icebound places are melting rapidly, it makes sense that ice — a commodity we take for granted until it grows scarce — has turned chic.

  • "There's this trend of people trying to be more sophisticated about how they keep their drinks cool," Leana Salamah of the International Housewares Association tells Axios.

Driving the news: Ice is popping up everywhere, all at once:

What they're saying: "Cold has kind of taken over," former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in an earnings call last November.

  • "Cold has certainly surprised us all at Starbucks."

By the numbers: More than 60% of Gen Z consumers ordered a cold coffee drink from a food service location in the first half of 2022, compared with 33% who ordered a hot coffee drink, says Mintel, the trend-spotting consultancy.

  • That's why Nespresso and Keurig introduced "new iced formulas of their single-serve products" this year, Modern Retail reports.

Yes, but: Martha Stewart, on a Greenland cruise last month, caught heat for boasting on social media that someone had "captured a small iceberg for our cocktails tonight."

  • At the same time, American tourists are getting scorned in Europe for their ice-loving ways. (In other cultures, ice is seen as taking valuable real estate away from the beverage at hand.)

Ice, ice baby: Housewares makers have cottoned to the craze, with new products like the Avanti countertop nugget ice maker ("enjoy the restaurant-quality nugget ice you crave") and Oggi large-sphere ice cube molds. (Nuggets appeal to people who like to chew ice.)

  • Williams Sonoma offers dozens of fanciful ice molds — so you can add frozen poodles, Darth Vader or the Hogwarts Castle to your highball.
  • "The larger ice cubes, whether they're the spheres or the cubes, are very, very popular," Salamah said. "They don't water down your drink as quickly."
  • "Bar-quality" clear ice — with less cloudiness and fewer impurities — is the brass ring: Stand-alone gadgets like the Ice-ology from Dexas let you make two 2-inch round cubes at a time at home (it takes 12 hours).

Flashback: Before electric refrigerators became widely available in the 1930s, ice (in drinks and home iceboxes) was a status symbol for the wealthy — it was harvested from frozen lakes by horses pulling plow-like ice cutters.

A platter on a pedestal displaying large round ice cubes.
LG has trademarked the term "Craft Ice" to refer to the 2-inch spheres its ThinQ refrigerators produce. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

In 2019, LG became the first refrigerator maker to produce those big round ice balls in its ice-making trays — something no other manufacturer is doing, according to William Kwon, senior product manager of refrigeration in LG's home appliances division.

  • "People want more ice; people want different kinds of ice," Kwon tells Axios, citing LG consumer surveys.
  • The latest LG ThinQ refrigerators offer up to four types of ice: regular cubes, crushed, miniature and 2-inch Craft Ice balls.
  • "By default, it produces three ice balls per day with a 90% clarity," Kwon said. Through an app, consumers can "change it to six ice balls per day with around 70% clarity."
The ice cube tray of an LG refrigerator, with large round cubes in one drawer and mini cubes in another.
Some of LG's new refrigerators pump out giant Craft Ice (left) as well as miniature cubes. Photo courtesy of LG

Meanwhile, ice is also making a strong showing in new food products, particularly those that cater to our growing taste for fun foods.

  • Food makers are pumping out everything from beer-flavored popsicles ("Coors-icles," which are — curiously — nonalcoholic) to frozen margaritas in ice pop form (Bud Light's Freeze-a-Ritas — which, yes, are for adults).

Where it stands: Designer ice has become "the height of domestic luxury," per The New York Times.

  • "Frozen water, which costs most Americans virtually nothing, is being redefined as a luxury item," Becky Hughes writes in the Times.
  • "At fashion-brand parties, ice cubes stamped with the company's logo are de rigueur. On tables at high-end weddings, fairy lights in Mason jars are out and wildflowers suspended in $14 ice cubes are in."

The bottom line: While the fancy ice trend is mostly about harmless fun, the growing prevalence of drought and water insecurity point to a future where ice will be at an ever-greater premium.

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