Making ice cream millennials crave

How can traditional ice cream makers compete in a boutique ice cream world?

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If you’re partial to frozen dairy treats — as I am — you’ll be pleased to learn July is National Ice Cream Month. President Ronald Reagan bestowed this gift on the ice cream industry in 1984, when he recognized ice cream as “a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by over 90% of the nation’s population.” Watch for promotional events all month long.

Booster initiatives aside, the world of ice cream has changed since 1984, when Baskin-Robbins was about as boutique as ice cream got in this part of the country. Now Oregon’s frozen treat startups are all the rage. How do the state’s old-time ice cream makers stay relevant in an increasingly competitive marketplace? 

Oregon Business talked with Oregon ice cream stalwarts Tillamook and Umpqua [the latter celebrating its 85th year] about managing the competition.

What is the key to your success?

Steve Feldkamp, Umpqua CEO: Our employees and the quality of our products. We have loyal, dedicated and hardworking employees who take pride in the job that they do. This shows in the recent awards that we have won both in Oregon and Nationally.  In 2015, we were recognized by the Quality Chekd organization has having the top ice cream production facility among all the members of QC. Also, we won the best production facility for cultured products.

Product quality is very important to us and is part of our mission statement which reads, in part, that our mission “is to produce the highest quality dairy products in the marketplace and make those available to our customers at a competitive price.”

Candace Butler, Tillamook Associate Category Manager: Tillamook is committed to what we consider Dairy Done Right. We are continually producing high-quality products made with uncompromising standards. This mission resonates with our consumers and in return they are coming back for more.

Success for Tillamook means success for our farmer-owners as profits are shared back with them, enabling them to sustain and grow their farming operations for generations to come. We’ve also put a focus on re-investing in our company and our capabilities, which enables us to bring even more high-quality Tillamook products to market.

Are boutique ice cream makers like Salt & Straw encroaching on your market share?

Feldkamp: Salt and Straw does a wonderful job creating new flavors and appealing to a certain segment of the population.  We don’t compete in that market.  We try and focus on providing great flavors that we sell at major grocery stores and a price point that people find affordable.Umpqua ice cream

We are similar [to boutique makers] in that we use only the finest ingredients and try to source them locally.  Our milk and powders come from cows not treated with any growth hormones.

Joe Prewett, Tillamook Director of Product Management and Innovation: We encourage boutique ice cream makers to enter the category. We learn from them and they learn from us. We think a retailer should provide shoppers with a diverse set of brands and styles to choose from.

Describe a few innovations you have introduced in recent years

Feldcamp: Like any business, we have suppliers who come to us with ideas for new flavors, new packaging, and new product ideas.  Additionally, we interact with our friends in the industry and discuss with them what works and what may not.  We bring these ideas in front of our innovations committee and discuss what may work, what is practical to do, and what we need to do to continue to grow and thrive in our industry.  Sometimes we make mistakes, but often we get some great ideas and they eventually end up in the marketplace.

Butler: Tillamook has a two pronged approach to new product innovation. We either create products that do a better job of meeting consumer needs than what exists in the market, or invent new products that leverage untapped white space opportunities.BLOG 1200X1200 popup1

Earlier this year, we launched a new super premium line of extra creamy ice cream, farmstyle gelato made with buttermilk to deliver a creamier texture, and Tillamook’s first super premium frozen custard, built on the foundation of our nearly 70-year ice cream heritage. [Tillamook also just opened its first ice cream parlor, in Tillamook, this month.]

The super premium ice cream segment is booming and millennials in particular crave flavor diversity and dimension.