Frozen Dairy Dessert: The Changing Landscape of Ice Cream

Growing up, my love for ice cream was unparalleled. Winning a contest for 26 half-gallons of ice cream was a childhood dream come true. Sharing a delightful half-gallon with my grandmother every Sunday became a cherished tradition. Breyers mint chocolate chip was the flavor that ignited love between my wife and me. Breyers, with its rich history dating back to post-Civil War Philadelphia, became our brand of choice – our north star in the world of frozen desserts.

Our devotion to Breyers went beyond the taste. We reveled in the simple pleasure of counting the specks of vanilla bean in our spoonfuls of all-natural vanilla. The cherry on top? Knowing that only the finest Bing cherries made it into our beloved ice cream. We took pride in the purity of its ingredients – milk, cream, sugar, and the essence of natural flavors. Not even rising cholesterol levels could dampen our love for Breyers. Surely, Henry Breyer deserved to be canonized, or so we thought.

However, our tranquil Breyers world took a turn when National Dairy Products Corp. acquired the brand in 1926. We didn’t feel disheartened until it metamorphosed into Kraftco. The image of the Breyer family joyfully churning ice cream in their Southwest Philadelphia factory quickly faded. Then, in 1993, Unilever, a Dutch conglomerate, took over our beloved brand.

As the years passed, ice cream tastes evolved. Some people craved chunks of their favorite candy bars entwined in their scoops. Eventually, Breyers succumbed to this demand. Yet, it managed to preserve its original all-natural flavors alongside the newcomers. Until recently, that is.

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The changes were subtle at first. The half-gallon containers, once a standard measure of indulgence, began to shrink while prices rose. Today, a Breyers “half-gallon” is a mere 1.5 quarts. My wife and I accepted the smaller portions and higher prices, adjusting our expectations accordingly. Little did we know that Unilever was about to alter the Breyers formula forever.

If you look closely at some Breyers packages now, you’ll find that the ice cream is no longer called “ice cream” but rather “frozen dairy dessert.” To be fair, the federal government does establish standards for the official designation of “ice cream.” A product must contain at least 10 percent milk fat to earn that title. By labeling their product as “frozen dairy dessert,” Unilever avoids the scrutiny of consumers who expect ice cream to meet specific criteria. There is no government standard for “frozen dairy dessert.” It is an ambiguous term, allowing big corporations to define it as they please. These “frozen dairy desserts” include additives like corn syrup, whey, mono and diglycerides, as well as gums like tara, carob bean, and guar gums (and trust me, I don’t want my goddaughter Tara’s namesake gum in my ice cream).

Unilever is not alone in this practice. Many other commercial ice cream brands follow suit, including the likes of Turkey Hill. However, Unilever’s association with the cherished Breyers name feels like a betrayal. If any established ice cream brand deserves respect, it’s the one hailing from this city. Let them meddle with ice creams made in Detroit or Cleveland instead!

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Take a moment to explore the vast array of products under the Unilever umbrella. From Vaseline to Clear scalp products, do any of these make your taste buds tingle? Brace yourself – Unilever even acquired Ben & Jerry’s.

The news of two gentle hippies selling their beloved ice cream brand to Unilever came as a shock. Will our beloved flavors suffer the same fate as Breyers? I can only imagine Jerry Garcia rolling in his grave over Unilever’s production of Cherry Garcia. For now, Unilever seems to be maintaining the integrity of Ben & Jerry’s, with the churns still humming in Vermont and their cream being free of BHT. Proceeds from their sales continue to support noble causes such as feeding the hungry and advocating for political prisoners.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder – for how long will this last? How long before the words “frozen dairy dessert” overshadow “ice cream” on their labels? The thought alone is enough to make me wish I were lactose intolerant.

So, let’s savor every spoonful of our beloved ice cream, cherishing the traditions and flavors that bring us joy. And the next time you crave a frozen delight, remember the story of Breyers and the changing landscape of ice cream.

[i>Contact the South Philly Review at [email protected].

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