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Local ice cream makers move toward non-dairy products

In April, Perry’s Ice Cream released a line of oat-milk-based frozen desserts that are dairy-free. In June they started sending out frozen yogurt laced with vegetable purees.

Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry's Ice Cream
Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry’s Ice Cream.

This week craft ice-cream maker Eat Me Ice Cream was blending locally grown black currants into a coconut-based ice cream, having recently reached an agreement to supply 61 Wegmans stores in seven states with dairy-free ice cream.

Both businesses are demonstrating that milk and cream are no longer the end-all and be-all of the ice cream world.

Perry’s, a regional giant based in Akron, Erie County, that delivers its ice cream to 8,000 retail locations, and Eat Me, which crafts batches of ice cream sandwiches, pints and quarts in the Hungerford Building near downtown Rochester, are catering to a new breed of customers that eschews dairy products.

“Clearly this is a consumer-led transition,” said Andrew M. Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University. “There are (ice cream) companies that are purely 100 percent plant based. A number of startup companies were trying to spearhead this,” he said. But now companies that have dealt exclusively in dairy products for decades are adding on oat-based or nut-based ice creams, too.

“They’re saying if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” Novakovic said. “Dairy companies are basically saying if we stick to our conventional products we’re going to see our sales decline.”

Other dairy companies like yogurt-maker Chobani have started offering non-dairy alternatives, he noted, and the same is true of meat-based product manufacturers.

“If you look at consumer surveys, there aren’t many of us who are 100 percent vegetarian or vegan,” Novakovic said. Perhaps 10 percent or fewer are eating that way. However, “there’s a considerably larger number or percentage of the population that says, ‘I’m trying to cut back.’ They don’t want to go meatless but they feel it would be desirable to cut back for two or three different reasons.”

This trend is particular strong among millennials, with Generation X not far behind, he said.

Perry's dairy-free ice cream
Perry’s dairy-free ice cream

Perry’s probably could ignore the non-dairy movement safely for a little while longer. Even without an oat-based frozen dessert, Perry’s had been growing by leaps and bounds. The company reports that sales went from $90 million four years ago to $130 million in 2018. Since 2017, Perry’s expanded sales into Virginia and Ohio, and added Wegmans stores in Maryland.

“We’re growing, in spite of whatever non-dairy, non-milk alternatives are out there,” said Robert Denning, president and CEO of Perry’s. But the company has always kept an eye out for consumer trends, reacting to the zeitgeist by introducing limited-edition flavors such as “Bad Breakup” and “Berry Into You” before Valentine’s Day.

“We’re taking a global look at consumers. The diversification of our portfolio aligns with many diverse consumers,” Denning said. “Consumers are much more segmented and niche, looking for different products. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all in this business.”

The oat-milk products, known as Oats Cream, are geared to appeal to people who want a rich, flavorful and premium dessert that does not include dairy products. Flavors include Coconut Caramel, Oat Latte, and Peanut Butter Coffee Cake, but not vanilla and chocolate because Perry’s felt the basics had already been covered in non-dairy treats.  The new frozen yogurt treats make use of probiotic yogurt, swirled with sorbet made from fruits (strawberries, raspberries, watermelon and grape) and vegetables (sweet potatoes, purple carrots and orange carrots.)

“These products are accessible for health-minded foodies, parents seeking healthier snack options for their children and traditional frozen yogurt consumers alike,” said Gayle Perry Denning, vice president of strategic branding and corporate sustainability for Perry’s.

Robert Denning noted that eating patterns have changed so that people are snacking more. As a result, some consumers are looking for healthier snacks. Perry’s frozen yogurt novelties, such as the Yo Buddie Bars, appeals to this niche by offering a less processed treat with 80 calories.

While Perry’s gets nearly all of its milk and cream from within a 150-mile radius of its Akron plant, it has also been able to source its oat milk locally, too, as the Elmhurst Dairy in Elma, Erie County, has switched to processing oats after operating a dairy for 90 years.

From left, Catelyn Augustine and Amber Odner, co-founders of Eat Me Ice Cream.
From left, Catelyn Augustine and Amber Odner, co-founders of Eat Me Ice Cream.

Eat Me Ice Cream, founded by Amber Odner and Catelyn Augustine in 2011, started out producing about half of its products with milk and the other half with coconut milk. Demand for a high-quality, non-dairy product has driving growth of the non-dairy, (or, as Odner says, plant-based) portion of Eat Me’s business to 90 percent of its output.

“The primary reason for more plant-based is because we’re really committed to that and believe it’s a fast-growing category,” Odner said.

Until recently, Odner said, there haven’t been a lot of high-quality, plant-based ice cream options. Some that existed tasted as if they were for people on a restrictive diet.

“We cater to food lovers that (crave) an indulgent category,” Odner said. The high-fat, super creamy coconut milk that forms the base of Eat Me’s plant-based ice cream provides a richer experience than some other vegan options.

It is sometimes hard to provide the same experience with cow’s milk and cream, Odner said, as small producers like Eat Me have a hard time sourcing the super-premium milk they require. She and Augustine are hoping to grow just large enough that they can source their cow’s milk from a dedicated farm, she said.

Eat Me ice cream
Eat Me ice cream

In the meantime they’re busy expanding the plant-based line. Flavors of dairy-based ice cream are often about the kind of chunks added in – nuts, cookie bits or chocolate chips, she said. But Eat Me mostly flavors the ice cream directly with black currants, lavender and ginger, for instance, rather than adding chunks.

Consumer response to Eat Me’s line of plant-based ice creams has been quite positive, Odner said, as public discussions of food allergies and how food is processed have grown and become more commonplace.

“Just with the craft foods movement, fewer people are shocked by the idea that it’s dairy free. More people are interested in trying it. More people are looking for it,” Odner said.

Novakovic said dairy processors are finding that non-dairy milks can be easier to handle, as they’re not as perishable as cow’s milk.

“When you’re dealing with milk or cream or other liquid dairy ingredients, you can’t fiddle around with when you process that,” he said. “It spoils. If you get a bunch of soybean meal or crushed almonds in your plant, that can stick around for a while.”

On the other hand, consumers may not realize that plant-based dairy products might have been sitting on a shelf for a while before they reached them, he said, or have been ultra-pasteurized to lengthen their shelf life.  Dairy products are basically made every day and shipped daily to grocery stores. Non-dairy milk products might arrive just once a week.

Nevertheless, non-dairy milks are growing in popularity to the point that their sales are roughly equal in dollar value to cow’s milk, Novakovic said. Plant-based milk tends to be priced much higher, though, so the volume of cow’s milk sales is still higher. He estimated that today about one-third of sales are non-dairy milks, while the rest are cow’s milk. Four years ago, non-dairy milks represented about 10 percent of sales, he said.

There’s no denying the growth swing, he said, but the dairy industry has seen big pendulum swings in the past. A couple of decades ago, many consumers preferred margarine to butter, feeling margarine was healthier because it didn’t contain cholesterol.  “There was a period when butter almost vanished,” Novakovic said. That completely changed after the discovery of harmful trans fats that are created by making vegetable oil into solid margarine form. And more consumers are willing to consider butter an indulgence now.

Non-dairy forms of cheese first became available about 50 years ago as a cost-cutting measure, he noted. But plant-based cheeses have largely failed to catch on in the general population for reasons of taste.

Cheese is a huge driver in the dairy industry because milk that isn’t consumed in liquid form often is used to make cheese, a product with a much longer shelf life. A cheese alternative that tastes good could indicate a lasting interest in plant-based dairy products and present a threat to dairy producers.

“If you see people going to alternatives with cheese, that’s going to be a very difficult proposition for the dairy industry,” Novakovic said.

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Ice cream maker Perry’s launches dairy-free “Oats Cream”

Perry’s has launched a dairy-free alternative to ice cream.

Perry’s Ice Cream Company Inc., headquartered in Akron, Erie County, is using locally produced oat milk in the base of its new frozen desserts.

perrys“For more than 100 years, we have brought innovative flavors to our ice cream line, using only fresh cream and milk,” said Robert Denning, Perry’s president and CEO. “However, we recognized today’s consumers have a growing desire for great tasting, plant-based frozen desserts. Simply stated, not everyone has been able to enjoy Perry’s ice cream due to lactose intolerance and other dietary choices until now.”

The “Oats Cream” line comes in pints and features seven flavors, from Apple Strudel to Peanut Butter & Cookies to Snickerdoodle.

“I’m extremely proud of our talented team of research and development experts who have spent a significant amount of time crafting Oats Cream and the extraordinary results speak for themselves!” Denning said.

Elmhurst 1925, a manufacturer of nut-based and grain-based milks in nearby Elba, Genesee County, is supplying the Milked Oats to make the milk base for the frozen dessert. All of the beverages Elmhurst 1925 produces contain between two and six ingredients.

The frozen desserts are all vegan and non-dairy, which makes them lactose-free as well. They do, however, contain gluten and wheat, particularly those that feature baked goods swirled into them.

  Perry’s is distributing the Oats Cream pints across its footprint in grocery stores in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Two flavors – Apple Strudel and Blueberry Pancake Oats Cream will be available in scoop shops this spring.

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Bouncing and sweets come to Marketplace Mall

Two new attractions have opened at Marketplace Mall—one offering sweet treats and the other providing a possible way to burn off the extra calories.

Eurobungy has returned to Marketplace Mall.
Eurobungy has returned to Marketplace Mall.

Eurobungy combines trampolines, bungee cords and hydraulic lifts to create a jumping and bouncing experience. Adventures in Climbing, a company in Ontario, Wayne County, operates the amusement ride. Riders weighing more than 30 pounds and less than 200 are able to use the ride, with admission costing $7, or two for $10.

The temporary attraction has been installed near the mall’s north entrance.

Eurobungy has been at the mall previously and will be available at least through the winter.  It’s available Fridays from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., and additional holiday hours.

Meanwhile, Roll’n Yen, a custom-made rolled ice cream vendor, opened in late October. The purveyor of Thai ice cream, crepes and tea used to have a store on South Avenue in the city’s South Wedge. The Marketplace Mall location is in the food court.

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Cinn-fully Delicious in the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes has a new flavor.

Ice cream that is.

Through the rest of July, which is also National Ice Cream Month, Cheshire Farms Creamery in Canandaigua is offering Cinn-fully Delicous ice cream, a flavor developed in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection.

Cinn-fully Delicious is made with a buttery ice cream base, a swirl of bourbon butter cinnamon and bits of cinnamon rolls made at the creamery.

“We are so fortunate to have great partnerships with local businesses like Cheshire Farms Creamery who are always looking to come up with innovative products for visitors to our area,” said Valerie Knoblauch, president of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection. “Lisa (Kuras) and Patty (Casella) are shining examples of why tourism in Ontario County is thriving.”

This is the second time the tourism agency and creamery have worked together to create and promote a flavor that could please locals and tourists during National Ice Cream Month. Last year’s flavor involved caramel, sea salt, fudge, brownies and chocolate chunks, known as Finger Lakes Visitors Confection, in a nod to the tourism organization’s name.

This year the creamery wanted to highlight the baked goods it offers at the store, said a spokeswoman for the Visitors Connection.

“Patty Casella and I are excited to work with the team at Finger Lakes Visitors Connection to bring this new flavor to our guests and to all who are planning a visit to the Finger Lakes,” said Kuras, owner of Cheshire Farms Creamery.

Different this year was crowd-sourcing the name. The agency promoted the flavor on social media and asked people to try the flavor and then submit name suggestions. Then they voted on four names that Finger Lakes Visitors selected from the pack. Cinn-fully Delicious beat out Buns of Cin, Cin-ful Doughlite and Cinnandaigua: The Chosen Treat.

Cinn-fully Delicious is sold at the creamery at 10 Parrish St., in Canandaigua.

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Time for ice cream in the Finger Lakes

Just in time for National Ice Cream Month in July, the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council is releasing a list of ice cream shops in the Finger lakes region that will help people celebrate.

The list of 20 shops reveals that the small villages of Penn Yan in Yates County and Watkins Glen in Schuyler County both have a serious over-representation of ice cream, with four shops apiece.

But the ice cream trail, as it were, also covers the region from Rochester (four shops) on the west to Reese’s Dairy Bar in Auburn to the east, and to the Ice Cream Works in Owego, just north of the Pennsylvania border.

The council represents 14 counties in the Finger Lakes Region and describes its list as the “top ice cream stops, producers and sweet spots across the region.”

Actually there are more than 20 shops, as Tom Wahl’s original store in Avon, Livingston County, is counted, but not its eight other locations, all of which also fall within the Finger Lakes region. Similarly, Abbott’s Frozen Custard in Rochester is listed, but it has 26 locations in or near Rochester alone. Other Rochester-area shops include Pittsford Farms Dairy, Eat Me Ice Cream and Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream.

For more tourism information, visit the Finger Lakes tourism site.

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Perry’s Ice Cream marks 100th anniversary with lots of ‘the good stuff’

In marking its 100th anniversary, Perry’s Ice Cream is rolling out new and retro flavors of ice cream, planning special events and expanding its territory.

The flavors came out this week, events will last through the year and the territory expansion is part of a push that began two years ago and picked up recently.

Gayle Perry Denning, vice president of corporate sustainability and strategic branding, said 900 new accounts were opened in its Midwest territory in the last 90 days, following two years of Perry’s trucks delivering ice cream and other manufacturers’ wares in that part of the country.

“Now it seems like we reached this tipping point where things are starting to cascade in our favor,” said Denning, a fourth-generation member of the Perry family that owns the business.

Perry’s gained new territory in Ohio two years ago when the delivery arm of its company won a contract to deliver frozen pizza, Edy’s ice cream and other Nestle brands, Denning said. Perry’s then won additional territory in adjoining Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, adding a total of 45,000 square miles to its service area.

Perry's new flavors are actually old ones.
Perry’s new flavors are actually old ones.

“The first thing we did was we branded all of our trucks with our branding,” Denning said. As the company created new relationships and started to introduce its products to the places where it delivered Nestlé’s products, it also bred familiarity with the western New York brand made in Akron, a small community on the border of Erie and Genesee counties.

At the same time, Wegmans invited Perry’s to sell its ice cream first in nine Wegmans stores in Virginia, and then expanded the invitation to include eight Maryland stores and two more Virginia stores. The impact of all this new work for Perry’s has meant it swelled from about 300 employees two years ago to more than 370 now.

They’ll help celebrate now and later this year for the 100th anniversary, which takes place Nov. 13. Right now, the company has released four old favorites from different decades: Parkerhouse (almond ice cream with maraschino cherries), Heavenly Hash (chocolate ice cream with marshmallow swirls, Swiss chips and roasted almonds), Butterscotch Sundae (butterscotch ice cream with salty butterscotch swirls and roasted peanuts), and Malt Shoppe (malted vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips). These four flavors will sell in 48-ounce containers at retail outlets. Meanwhile, a unique flavor honoring the frequent saying and favorite ice cream topping of the company founder, H. Morton Perry, will be offered in scoop shops and ice cream parlors. “The Good Stuff” is a yellow cake ice cream with swirls of strawberry and panda paw cups filled with strawberry cream.  All of those flavors likely will be available at least through March 2019, Denning said.

According to Perry family lore, the ice cream company began 100 years ago when Akron High School asked milkman H. Morton Perry to make some ice cream for its students. Denning said her great-grandfather made about two gallons of ice cream on his kitchen stove at night and sent it to school with his son—then a high school student—the next morning. To commemorate the school’s special role in the founding of the company, Perry’s will throw an ice cream social for Akron school children on June 8, delivering more than 75 gallons of ice cream to make sure there’s plenty to go around for every grade.

A special day for employees, to be arranged, will take place later in the year after the busy ice cream season is over, Denning said, and Nov. 13 will have special commemorative activities.

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