Corporate Last Licks; Can Dreyer's, the Largest U.S. Ice-Cream Maker, Figure out How to Market Its Newfangled Low-Fat Product?

By Setoodeh, Ramin | Newsweek, May 9, 2005 | Go to article overview

Corporate Last Licks; Can Dreyer's, the Largest U.S. Ice-Cream Maker, Figure out How to Market Its Newfangled Low-Fat Product?


Setoodeh, Ramin, Newsweek


Byline: Ramin Setoodeh (With Jennifer Ordonez in Bakersfield, Calif.)

On a sunny spring day in southern California, a handful of factory workers are scurrying around in heavy black winter parkas. At the Dreyer's ice cream plant in Bakersfield--where they turn out such treats as Drumstick cones, Push-Up pops, ice-cream sandwiches and flavors like double-fudge brownie and rocky road--it's never time to be wearing short sleeves. These days, the temperature is dropping even more. In some of the largest freezers, set at 7 degrees, Dreyer's is producing a new kind of lower-fat ice cream that the company says tastes like the regular artery-clogging good stuff. Plant manager Mark McLenithan opens a chocolate tub and offers a taste. "You can't tell, can you?"

Well, call us skeptical. Light ice cream, with half the fat or at least a third fewer calories, has been around since the 1980s. But most palates haven't been impressed. When you cut down on fat, ice cream tastes more like ice and less like cream. Now Dreyer's, the largest ice-cream maker in the United States with $1.6 billion in sales last year, says it's licked the problem. Its new line of light ice cream is prepared in freezers with lower temperatures and at higher pressure--Dreyer's won't explain the process any further, citing trade secrets--so fat molecules are broken up, flattened out and given a larger surface area. The result, the company says, is a creamier texture. "We can make an ice cream with 5 grams of fat taste as rich as ice cream with 14 or 15 grams," says T. Gary Rogers, the company's CEO, who purchased Dreyer's in 1977.

By limiting more-costly ingredients like milk and cream, Dreyer's can still keep prices steady (a 1.75-quart carton sells for about $5.50), even if the process takes longer and requires freezers twice as large. Dreyer's challenge is to figure out the best way to market this line that it launched last year. How do you entice picky taste buds that have already rejected light ice cream? The solution, Dreyer's hopes, comes in a name change. When the product was first unveiled, it was called Grand Light. But that sounded too much like a meal offered by Jenny Craig. Packages on grocer's aisles now come with a snazzier moniker, Slow Churned--a brand that plays off the fact that the new ice cream is mixed at a slower speed than its higher-fat counterpart. …

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