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Tearing Down a Brand

January 11, 2010

It feels like a million years ago that I used to work in advertising.  I even got to work for a few ice cream brands (for the sake of full disclosure: brand 1, brand 2 and brand 3).

Once I was on a brand retreat with one of the ice cream clients, and they were doing a blind tasting.  The client’s brand was “Brand A” and Breyer’s was “Brand B”.  Would you believe I was the only one in the room who claimed to prefer the competition?

The rest of the retreat was a bit rough, but I kept my job.

Honestly, I’ve always liked Breyer’s ice cream.  Sure, it’s not as thick, rich and creamy as its competitors.  But sometimes one wants ice cream to be light and refreshing.  No?  Especially if you are using it to top an already thick and rich dessert, like a fudgy brownie or a hot caramelized apple pie.

Plus, I have a soft spot for their old commercials.  They appeal to my very current sense of what food should be: minimally processed, with real ingredients, and not too many of them.

Here’s an old spot (circa 1984, if you believe the internets).

I hope you watched the spot.  If you caught a glimpse of the comments, you probably have a sense where this is going.

Breyer’s, the great all-natural ice cream that prided itself on having just four ingredients, and chided locust beans (a thickening agent derived from natural sources) is now using tara gum (a thickening agent derived from natural sources).

If you do even just the most cursory bit of digging into tara gum on Wikipedia, you will find that it is more viscous than the maligned locust beans from the old commercial.

Even the high quality Haagen-Dazs is making a big deal about their five-ingredient flavors.  But back in the day Breyer’s was able to do it with just four.

Old ingredients (from spot): pure milk, fresh cream, sugar and strawberries.
New ingredients (from site): Milk, strawberries, sugar, cream, whey, natural tara gum.

So, we have this strong brand that encouraged its consumers to read the labels and to be suspicious of things like gums in the ice cream.  Flash forward (pleases don’t make me say twenty-five years) and that very same brand is pumping their product up with a virtually identical substance.

You may also notice the addition of whey, which sounds very Little Miss Muffet.  But the FDA explains that it is for use under the category of “Stabilizers and Thickeners, Binders, Texturizers.” And savvy vegetarians will know that whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process, and will likely come from cheese made with animal-based rennet (unless otherwise noted.)

But I also encourage you to look at the difference in the order of ingredients.  See how cream has been demoted to the fourth ingredient from the second.  To me this is just as critical as the insertion of gums into the product.

In fact, to my mind, this is the true reason for the addition of gum: to increase profitability by lowering the cost of ingredients.  Butterfat is expensive.  Gums are cheap.  When you buy ice cream, it should be ice cream.

And the truth be told, there are tons of regulations regarding what can be labeled as ice cream.  But they don’t seem to be helping, do they?

It is a real shame when a brand that was built upon the promise of four kitchen-cabinet ingredients reneges on that promise.  Especially since many of its loyal and trusting consumers probably stopped reading the Breyer’s ingredients labels long ago.

Can I get a harumpf?

Just do not forget what the Breyer’s ice cream ad taught us all those years ago: Read the ingredients of your food.  And don’t forget to check for ingredients, even on products that you wouldn’t suspect to have any.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2010 11:52 am

    Well that just sucks. I think you’re right. Because their brand has so long been thought of as the natural choice (and I do remember those old commercials with the adorable kids trying to pronounce ingredients) it’s likely that people would just grab it without looking at the ingredients. What a shame that they’ve changed their recipe so much.

    And I’ve been looking for the Haagen-Dazs Five but I haven’t seen it anywhere. I love mint ice cream without chocolate but it’s so hard to find.

    • January 12, 2010 10:36 am

      Just yesterday I saw the Haagen-Dazs Five at both the Price Chopper on Central and the Walmart on Washington.

      If I’m not mistaken, the almost-pint is on sale this week at Price Chopper for $2.99 (reduced from the regularly low low price of $4.50) and is available at Walmart for their everyday low price of $2.99.

      Good hunting.

      And to everyone else, I’m loving the comments. You all are the best.

  2. Barrie permalink
    January 11, 2010 12:22 pm

    This is slightly disappointing, but I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find out that I have long since given up on buying commercial ice cream (among other things) anyway, and actually make my own ice cream. I am such a food nut that I go far beyond the “just 4 ingredients” requirement–they must be the best 4 ingredients I can find. In fact, I don’t buy the idea that 4 is better than 5 or some other arbitrary number, because I believe the best-tasting ice cream includes eggs as a custard base and thus my recipe is 5 ingredients. In standard food label order of highest volume to lowest, they are: raw grassfed milk, organic strawberries, raw grassfed cream, farm-fresh pasture-raised eggs, Rapadura (TM) (the best commercially-available unrefined sugar). There is so much confusion engendered by the purveyors of convenience foods over what is healthy: if you shop in the freezer section of Whole Foods, for instance, you will find all kinds of alternatives, but all of them are processed and/or contain harmful “natural” foods (soy protein isolate anyone?). Even pasteurization is a processing method that renders milk much less healthy than that left raw from carefully-milked, grassfed cows (granted, I do cook the milk to make the custard, but the raw cream I add later, after cooling, so I figure that’s a good compromise). And nobody seems to get the unrefined sugar thing. So I make my own, in spite of how crazy it makes me seem, because, hey! I want my dessert too, and of course so do my kids.

    It is a pleasure to read your blog and know that I’m not the only fussy one out there, even some of our criteria differ. I look forward to many more posts, and hope you don’t mind the occasional rant from me in the comments.

  3. Tonia permalink
    January 11, 2010 1:27 pm

    I have nothing to add. Awesome blog.

  4. Sarah M. permalink
    January 11, 2010 3:25 pm

    Michael Pollan credited himself with the 5-ingredient marketing push the other day while being interviewed on NPR. Paraphrasing– “I told people not to eat anything with more than 5 ingredients, then Haagen Dazs released their 5 ice cream!” Shut up, Michael Pollan. Maybe take some time to follow your own advice.

  5. phairhead permalink
    January 11, 2010 9:49 pm


  6. JoJo permalink
    January 12, 2010 5:03 pm

    I’d love to get your take on artificial sweetener.

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