Artisan ice cream can be found almost everywhere these days. Over the last several years an abundance of new companies are popping up all over the United States, selling their flavors from food trucks, pop-up shops and ice cream parlors.
These artisanal, craft small batch ice cream makers have many common themes: a focus on fresh, locally sourced and seasonal ingredients; clean and/or organic ingredients; bold flavor combinations; and often wildly unique flavors. They find flavor inspiration from restaurant menus, bars, travel and their own diverse imaginations.
According to a What’s Hot 2016 culinary forecast from the National Restaurant Association, homemade/artisan ice cream is the number one trend in desserts on restaurant menus for 2016. It is number 10 among the top 20 food trends overall.
The small ice cream industry has been around for some time, said Scott Rankin, professor and chair of the Food Science Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison. He points to Ben and Jerry’s story for an example.
“But I think the interest in expanding flavors, tastes, cooking (Food Network, etc.) have spurred more exploration within the ice cream realm, especially at the smaller level, working with batch freezers,” said Rankin.
Flavor exploration is one of the biggest drivers (alongside local, quality and clean ingredients) for lovers of artisan ice cream. What they find in these shops is not something you can find in the aisles of your typical grocery store. Customers are looking to explore their palate and imagination, in addition to treating themselves.
Some of the artisan ice cream makers we spoke with attribute the popularity of artisanal ice cream to the changing consumer mindset about what’s in their food and where it comes from. Consumers want quality, too.
“I think generally people are becoming more concerned with what they are eating and where their food is coming from,” said Laura O’Neill, co-founder of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. “People are definitely looking for a quality product, especially families deciding what to give their kids. Social media has played a big part in creating a buzz around food, too.”
Natasha Case, CEO and co-founder of the architecturally inspired gourmet ice cream company Coolhaus, Culver City, Calif., said, “I think the typical customer has become open to experimenting more with flavor profiles and ingredients, and ice cream shops are great places to test those boundaries and push them even further — hence, the proliferation of artisan shops.”
Case added that, “people want concepts that are familiar, but made better — re-appropriated to today’s consumer standards (natural, less sweet, no hydrogenated fats, a more refined palate, etc.).”
We spoke with several artisan ice cream companies (see profile links below) about how they got started in the business and what inspired them. A common theme in many of these start-up stories is a whole lot of charm, luck and hard work. Mastering the art of personal touch and focusing on the craft — like pureness, quality and the whole experience surrounding eating ice cream — keeps these small businesses moving forward, standing out from a crowded landscape and gaining very loyal fan bases.
You never know — the next Ben & Jerry’s could be in the making.
To read more about the artisan ice cream makers we spoke with, check out the links below to each profile.