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Food is Screwed: When Ice Cream Isn’t

September 30, 2012

Score one for the federal government. They aren’t always on the right side of food issues, be it propping up corn with massive subsidies, preventing the testing of cows for BSE, or rushing GMO crops to market without sufficient research proving their long term safety.

But they have established standards of identity for a whole slew of products. Granted, you can still sell “cream” even if it is adulterated with thickening agents. However, “ice cream” has to contain a certain level of butterfat to bear the name. Less butterfat and it can be called “light ice cream.”

There is even a name for those products that contain even less butterfat.

Butterfat is the expensive and delicious part of ice cream. Traditionally, it’s what has made the product so rich and creamy. But now there are cheap thickeners and gums for providing a similar experience. None of this is news. We talked about how Breyer’s had traded on its proud brand heritage of all-natural kitchen cabinet ingredients to bring a cheaper version of their ice cream to market.

So I shouldn’t be surprised that they have sunk to a new low.

That butterfat scale I was just mentioning? Below “light ice cream” is “frozen dairy dessert,” and unless you were paying careful attention, that carton of Breyer’s you recently bought could very well be the latter.

While I’m just finding this out, reports go all the way back to March 2012.

What is particularly interesting to see is the slow progression of the brand’s descent into this dark and murky realm. It seems likely the brand managers saw this change coming and orchestrated an Orwellian shift in their language. The packaging revisions were so gradual and subtle, it’s no wonder that people think they are still actually buying ice cream.

You can see here the butter pecan packaging from once upon a time. In the top right corner are two things predominantly displayed. “ALL NATURAL” is in green, and below it in white is “ICE CREAM”.

The next iteration kept the same font treatment in the top right corner. Except now in green is the word “QUALITY” and below it in white reads “SINCE 1866”. The product is still ice cream, as you can clearly see in the fine print at the bottom of the container. But the consumer is being trained to look at the picture and the design of the packaging, to come to the conclusion that, “This is ice cream” without a large, explicit call out on the front of the carton.

Which clearly paves the way to where we are now. It’s the exact same package, well, almost. The only thing that has changed, besides the stuff inside you are paying your hard-earned money to eat, is the small, narrow federally-mandated text on the bottom of the package. Now where it read “ICE CREAM” it says “FROZEN DAIRY DESSERT.” You can kind of make it out on the package (in the link above) if you squint and get real close to your screen.

However, the savvy of their packaging was thwarted by the hamfistedness of their website. Mrs. Fussy pointed out that it described the product as, “Real butter-roasted pecan pieces nestled in rich, creamy Vanilla frozen dairy dessert. Nuttin tastes better than our Butter Pecan!”

Really they should have said, “Real butter-roasted pecan pieces nestled in a rich, creamy Vanilla base.”

It’s the sin of omission. And it’s what they practice on their carton. Jeers to them for failing to echo the fraudulent connotations as cleverly on the website.

But in all seriousness, this is super lame. And it’s just one example of why one needs to be super vigilant when buying groceries. Even trusted brands that you’ve grown up with will change on you when you least expect it. Heinz ketchup is now little more than a HFCS delivery device, as is my beloved Cel-Ray. Entenmann’s is not the same treat that I grew up with in Brooklyn.

Now I invite you and your friends to join me in a little social disruption. Don’t let Breyer’s get away with this. The best way to give brands hell these days is to hit them where it hurts, on their social media platforms. Here is their Facebook page. If you are unhappy with their sneaky reformulations to pad the bottom line while giving consumers an inferior product, let them know. And keep reminding them every time they imply how natural their products continue to be.

Because they aren’t. And what they are doing may be legal, but it’s wrong.

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Full disclosure: A long time ago I worked for Goodby Silverstein and Partners, an advertising agency in San Francisco. While I was there, my clients included Dreyer’s, Edy’s and Haagen Dazs. While working on these brands gave me some keen insights into the ice cream business, they have not influenced my opinion on this matter.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2012 9:16 am

    Done. Pretty sneaky how you can hide something by putting it in reverse type on a white background.

  2. September 30, 2012 11:23 am

    Thanks for the link! Two long-time Breyer’s eaters over here who have been done with them since that first post of ours. Very disappointing, and a good reason to practice our civic skills with a few thousand demands!

  3. MsAmy permalink
    September 30, 2012 12:17 pm

    Annoying and distressing….but not really surprising.

  4. September 30, 2012 12:43 pm

    I fell into the “frozen dairy dessert” trap earlier this year, had a real “WTF?” moment after the first spoonful.

    Have you tried the Entenmann’s apple cider donuts? Just got some this weekend and kind of enjoyed them. There’s definitely some decent apple flavor in there.

  5. biggsis permalink
    September 30, 2012 11:01 pm

    Don’t know why I didn’t think of public complaints on their Facebook page! Off I go…

  6. October 1, 2012 11:51 am

    Fascinating write-up about the design process – thanks for the insight. For me, personally, this is a bit of a non-issue since I take my frozen desserts entirely non-dairy and have to cope with the long list of ingredients (and a hefty price-tag) when I want to indulge!

  7. October 1, 2012 1:15 pm

    While you are on it…don’t forget to mention the actual SIZE of what used to be a half-gallon container of ice cream. Too bad…I loved breyers as a young boy….Too bad indeed.

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