A month ago, my wife brought home a gallon of Breyers ice cream. There were three problems with it: First, it wasn’t a gallon—it was 48 ounces. Second, it wasn’t ice cream; it was something called Dairy Dessert. Third, the famously short all-natural Breyers ingredient list had been augmented with ingredients more commonly associated with the famously non-natural Twinkie. This sent me on a grim quest to learn what happened to Breyers. I learned that “dairy dessert” is what the FDA calls ice cream knock-offs without sufficient cream/dairy-fat content to meet the government’s definition of ice cream. The new ingredients in Breyers non-ice cream fall into three categories: thickeners (guar gum and carrageenan), low-cost sweeteners (corn syrup), food coloring (annatto), and low-cost additives (mono and diglycerides). Breyers Ice Cream, founded in 1866, was part of Kraft Foods for most of the 20th Century. Kraft sold it to the international conglomerate Unilever in the 1990s, at the same time that a new generation of premium ice cream brands—i.e., Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s—eroded its market share and pristine identity.
For millions of Baby Boomers and near-Boomers, Breyers was the great American ice cream brand. The appearance of a gallon of Breyers Vanilla Fudge or Mint Chocolate Chip (never with the green food coloring common in other brands) was a treat reserved for special occasions. Unilever’s strategists obviously concluded that it was better business to pivot Breyers toward the low-end than to cling to shrinking market share on the high end. That's their right. Perhaps if people like me—who remember Breyers quality and recoil at the overly complicated premium ice cream combinations of today—had purchased it more often, this never would have happened. It’s also true that some of the original ice cream products remain in the supermarket, though confusingly co-mingled with the new-stuff. Ultimately, it's deserved punishment on me and people like me for purchasing more ice cream from ice cream shops than from the supermarket. Our spend never matched our loyalty. So now we’re opening wide for a creamy spoonful of guar gum and di-glycerides. // Michael Adelberg
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