This season, the B&R Dairy Bar in Gray traded its frozen yogurt for 30 flavors of vegan soft serve, including German chocolate cake, peanut butter, pistachio, java frappe, and blueberry — and sales exploded.

“The response has been pretty incredible,” according to Tom Murray, who’s owned the 50-year-old business for the past five seasons. “With the yogurt, I’d order five to seven cases a season. I ordered 16 cases of the dairy-free, and I sold it in a month.”

Murray predicts that by the end of this season, half of his business could be vegan flavors. “I have people who haven’t been able to have ice cream in 20 years, and this tastes just like ice cream,” Murray said.

At the Dairy Corner in Scarborough, multiple vegan ice flavors are available every day and all of them can be made into a vegan shake. Vegan ice cream choices have multiplied in Maine. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

B&R stocks the most vegan ice cream flavors that I’ve discovered in Maine, yet across the state vegan ice creams have multiplied at scoop shops. This is a change from 2015, when I reported that more Maine ice cream stands were providing vegan options, but I noted, “Most are technically sorbets.” And while sorbets are delicious and refreshing, they are not the same as ice cream.

These new creamy vegan choices are made from plant-based milks, such as oat, coconut or almond. The state’s best-known vegan ice cream maker is Sticky Sweet, which sells its pints wholesale and also operates an ice cream stand in Portland. They were joined earlier this summer by the all-vegan Curbside Comforts food truck, which sells vegan soft serve. Last year, the national chain Dairy Queen launched its vegan Dilly Bar.

The wider availability of vegan flavors is driven both by a desire to appeal to people who avoid cow’s milk and by the appetite of ice cream eaters for something new. For scoop shop owners, vegan ice cream is a solution to a situation that has become more obvious in recent years. Joe Holland, who has owned The Jefferson Scoop in Jefferson for 22 years, considers himself a problem solver. One problem he’s faced more often the last few seasons is customers who don’t want traditional ice cream.

“If someone in a family or group comes to our shop and can’t order with their family, I see that as a problem,” Holland said. “More often than not, the problem would be that they could not eat our premium line of ice cream … The solution was to bring in the dairy-free, vegan ice cream.”

The Jefferson Scoop added vegan ice cream in 2020 and now offers three flavors: Oreo, chocolate chunk and vanilla. Holland said that finding a vegan ice cream wholesaler was difficult, and its higher price has an impact on his bottom line, since Holland charges the same price for vegan and non-vegan flavors.

“It’s not quite mainstream yet with distributors and large manufacturers across the board,” Holland said. “It took some research and some help along the way to make it happen.”

But the vegan ice cream helps attract customers. “Offering the dairy-free line has brought in enough customers to offset the smaller profit margins,” he said. “We have seen a bump in business with more new faces and returning customers who choose the dairy-free, vegan ice cream option.”

A dish of vegan cookies and cream ice cream from The Local Scoop in Hallowell, which always stocks four or five vegan flavors. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

The vegan flavors at Hallowell ice cream shop The Local Scoop, which opened this season under the new ownership of Tom Hanson and his daughters, Brittany and Ashley Hanson, have also proven popular. They include chocolate chip cookie dough, coffee fudge swirl, and cookies and cream.

“We use Planet Oat pints, and we keep four or five different flavors on hand so that our friends that have allergies and our friends that are vegan can have ice cream with their families,” said Brittany Hanson. “Oat milk seems to be safest for people with allergies. We go through the pints really fast. There’s a huge need for it.”

Hanson told me she’d heard Maine-based Gifford’s, where the shop buys its conventional ice cream, was planning a vegan line. Hanson was excited because she expected that would make it easier to buy in large quantities. I’m sorry to break it to her, but “unfortunately, it’s a rumor,” Gifford’s spokesperson Kelsey Matheson said. “There’s no vegan ice cream coming out.” Too bad, as it’s clear a market for it exists.

Bresca & The Honeybee, located at Outlet Beach on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, has been serving housemade vegan ice creams since 2015.

“But recently I have come up with a formula that is better than where we started,” said owner Krista Kern Desjarlais. “So as of 2020, we have been offering a new and improved formula and more choice for vegan flavors.”

Desjarlais now uses a pea protein milk as a base, and creates flavors that include rocky road, mint chocolate chip, fig leaf with raspberry swirl and coffee with crispy hazelnut praline. All the flavors are also gluten-free. Each day, Bresca & the Honeybee offers at least three vegan ice creams. In addition, the ice cream stand stocks vegan whipped cream, vegan pizzelle cookies, vegan dark chocolate shell and vegan sprinkles.

“I have been working hard to make choices for everyone and have it be super tasty so no one feels they have just settled for a dairy-free or vegan option that is less than what you can expect from traditional ice creams,” said Desjarlais, a professional pastry chef who is herself lactose intolerant.

The ice cream is also made by hand at the two Downeast Ice Cream Factory locations in Boothbay Harbor. In 2020 they made their own vegan ice cream for the first time.

“Last year, we did a coconut base and people said the flavor was too strong and it wasn’t freezing well,” manager Toni Facciponti said. “Over the winter, I was comparing lots of things. Then I found this brand in Chicago called Temptation, which makes a base meant for soft serve. But we’ve been using it as hard serve with add-ins. It’s an oat milk base and it’s more neutral.”

The result is happy customers and a rotating selection of at least three vegan flavors each day, such as birthday cake, midnight moose tracks, black raspberry, and peanut butter wafer.

Even among people who eat ordinary ice cream, “there’s a lot of demand for dairy-free,” Downeast owner Bob Bua said. “People are looking for something a little more exciting and creative. Our ice cream makers tend to be on the younger side, so they appreciate making the dairy-free, vegan flavors.”

The staff have “really embraced” the new vegan line, Facciponti agreed. Since her own brother is allergic to cow’s milk, “It’s been exciting for me to look up flavor ideas, ” she said. “I’m aware of how dietary allergies can mess with a family gathering.”

But with more and more Maine scoop shops adding dairy-free flavors, the summer of 2021 will see fewer left-out family members and a lot more smiles frosted with vegan ice cream.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]
Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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