When ice cream isn’t ice cream anymore: Shrink the package, or shrink the quality?

Are you buying ice cream or frozen dairy dessert

After discussing the ever-increasing phenomenon of “grocery shrink,” where packages keep getting smaller but the price stays the same (or worse, goes up,) I wondered in another post what will happen when products become so tiny that they really can’t be any smaller.

Case in point – just in the past few months, Oscar Mayer Lunchables dropped from 4.4 ounces to 3.4. Suave deodorant chopped 47% of the deodorant out of their new packaging, with a 2.6-ounce solid dropping to 1.4 ounces… almost trial-sized. Dawn Hand Renewal dishwashing liquid is now 9 ounces, down from 9.5.

Will packages keep getting smaller, or will manufacturers begin downgrading the ingredients to cheapen the cost… and in turn, the quality? Ice cream shrunk from a half-gallon to 1.5 quarts quite some time ago. And recently, Consumer Reports’ blog The Consumerist noted that many flavors of Breyers “ice cream” are no longer ice cream at all. These products don’t contain enough cream and/or milk fats to meet the standards set by the USDA to qualify as ice cream under Dairy Industry Act S.N.S. 2000, c. 24 N.S. Reg. 200/89.

So, what happened? The Breyers name used to be synonymous with all-natural ingredients. Remember their commercials which featured shoppers trying to read the ingredients list of a carton of other ice cream? Breyers advertised that they used natural ingredients like milk, sugar and cream, mocking a competitor’s sodium alginate, polysorbate 80, malic acid and locust bean:

But now, if you go to the grocery store and grab a tub of Breyers, chances are you’ll be picking up a carton of “Frozen Dairy Desert” and not “ice cream.” While Breyers does still make flavors that qualify as ice cream, the majority of them at the freezer case at my local Jewel-Osco are indeed Frozen Dairy Dessert. Check out these two tubs of Breyers Natural Strawberry and Breyers Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough, side by side:

The Natural Strawberry, which is still noted as an Ice Cream on the carton, is made from milk, strawberries, sugar, cream, whey, and Tara gum. (Tara gum is a plant-based ingredient that Breyers began adding around 2006 to reduce crystallization in the carton.) But the Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough is noted as a Frozen Dairy Dessert, and is made with milk, sugar, corn syrup, carob bean gum, carrageenan, and other ingredients.

Interestingly, the Natural Strawberry also carries the “Breyers Pledge” to use only high quality ingredients,” but the Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough does not carry this pledge.

There’s another ingredient in ice cream that gives it its characteristic texture — air. While the ingredients label certainly doesn’t have to include “air,” you will likely notice that the Frozen Dairy Dessert varieties seem to have a lot more air in them than the ones labeled Ice Cream do. This is a fun (and tasty!) experiment if you want to try it yourself, but if you take out a carton of Ice Cream and a carton of Frozen Dairy Dessert, the ice cream is a lot more dense and more difficult to scoop when it’s fresh out of the freezer. The frozen dairy dessert is soft and creamy and scoops right out. The frozen dairy dessert also melts a lot faster in the bowl too. Another of my longtime favorite blogs, Cockeyed.com, recently did a comparison between Dreyer’s (that’s Edy’s, to us Midwesterners) Light Ice Cream and regular Dreyer’s Ice Cream. The blog’s author, Rob Cockerham, opened two cartons of Dreyers and let them sit and melt completely, so he could see how much air was in each. While there’s a good deal of air in all ice cream, 54% of the Light Ice Cream carton was filled with air:

Rob writes:

Dreyer’s slow churning process doesn’t have anything to do with churning.This newish ice cream is made using a process called low-temperature extrusion. This technique uses equipment which operates at a lower temperature, -20° C instead of a mere -5°C, allowing them to keep the ice crystal formations super small, resulting in a creamy taste, even though there isn’t much actual cream inside. So what if they sell you half a carton of air? You LOVE when air tastes this good.

On a somewhat related topic, Rob’s Cockeyed.com blog has a running feature called “How Much Is Inside,” which his let-the-ice cream-melt experiment was part of. In another post, he notes that a Pillsbury Moist Supreme cake mix box states that it will make 24 cupcakes, but when he poured the mix into a cupcake pan, it only filled 17 cupcakes:

When it was time to pour the cupcakes, I was somewhat surprised to find that the batter barely filled 17 cups. These were by no means overflowing, top-heavy, muffin-top cupcakes. They were kind of pitiful actually, and yet the box claimed to make 24 cupcakes. What would they look like if I spread this batter among 24 cupcakes? They’d be cupcakes for ants.

Indeed, I’ve gotten really frustrated with the shrinkage of cake mixes too. Earlier this summer Consumerist.com noted that Pillsbury took three ounces out of their cake mix:

Three ounces is 16% of the original mix’s size, but the box still makes 24 cupcakes. That makes each cupcake 16% smaller.

While the old box that I have in my pantry notes there’s a full cup of pudding in the mix, the new box simply states that there IS pudding in the mix. Judging from Rob’s cupcake photo above, it would indeed be very difficult to get 24 cupcakes out of the new downsized cake mix. (How can they even make that claim?) This is certainly frustrating to anyone who is trying to make 24 cupcakes… or anyone using cake mixes as ingredients for other recipes that call for a full boxed cake mix. All of this has honestly made me think about making more things at home from scratch. We have an ice cream machine… why don’t we use it more? Cakes are pretty easy to make without a boxed mix too, and then you can make a batch of batter as large as you’d like. Has the downgrading of products’ ingredients and the shrinkage of packages made you think about changing your shopping and cooking habits more too?




  1. Outlander says

    Check this out
    Here is another link http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_3637.cfm
    and one more
    You might be surprised but this gross stuff is part of low fat ice cream too.
    I mostly bake from scratch, but like to have a few boxes of cake mix on hand for convenience too. Plus, there are a few recipes I love that start with cake mix.
    I also recently started making my own ice cream.

  2. Flag1 says

    There is a lot to be said for making things from scratch. I am retired now and have the time and the food is “wonderful” as my husband puts it. I still made things from scratch, but not as much. When I worked I paid a lot of money for just about anything organic and hormone free meat, good seafood, etc. Read those labels so you know what you are buying. Glad we rarely purchase “ice cream.” :)

  3. rswehrle says

    I am making a promise to myself to write to each company that we discuss regarding downsizing, because I believe they need to know that I, as a consumer, am not happy with the downsizing and the product “adjustment of ingredients”. If they don’t hear it, they won’t change it. Together we can make a difference.

  4. susieqs2 says

    I posted this in another thread but I was able to confirm it this past week. The Tide HE versions were smaller in size compared to the regular Tide, this was not the case before. Me and my mom were together and she had picked up one of the regular Tide bottles by accident. She said it feels heavier than the ones in her cart, and sure enough the Tide HE bottles were 40 ounces(25 loads) and the regular ones were around 50 ounces(32 loads). I told her she can use the regular tide but only use half the amount.