The news two weeks ago that the Snelgrove ice-cream brand is being retired after 79 years has caused an outcry from longtime fans.
The company's giant, revolving double cone on 2100 South is a nostalgic reminder of family excursions and teenage dates to the neighborhood ice-cream parlor. What happened to the days when local, independent shops across America made their own hard-pack ice cream that was scooped from a carton, not streamed out of a soft-serve machine or mixed with candy?
Has everyone been "licked" by the giant ice-cream makers and corporate chains?
"Ice cream will never go away, it's a favorite food for many people," said Michael Farr of Farr Better Ice Cream in Ogden. "But where we get it, how we get it and what form it comes in changes from time to time."
The Farr family began making ice cream in 1929, a few months before Snelgrove. In 2000, Farr bought Russell's, a longtime Salt Lake company. The Farr ice-cream parlor in downtown Ogden continues to do a brisk business.
Elsewhere around the state, Utah State University is still churning out Aggie ice cream, and Peach City remains a Brigham City institution. Spotted Dog Creamery, a small newcomer, is scooping out a niche for itself amid the sea of corporate ice-cream manufacturers.
Around the state, you can find Scoop It Up in Kaysville, Chill in Sandy, Squirrel Brothers on 400 South, Johnny's Dairy in North Ogden, Scoopology in Midvale, the Big Scoop Cafe in St. George, Sub-Zero in Orem, and Red Rock Creamery and Smart Cookie Co. in Provo.
Farr said the popularity of "mix-in" shops such as Cold Stone and Frosted Rock, and the recent remodeling of the Baskin-Robbins stores, are a testament to the fact that ice cream is here to stay.
"But it's increasingly difficult to find what you and I would think of as the old-fashioned ice-cream parlor," he added. "Our shop is small and unique. We do what we've always done, serving 70 flavors of bigger scoops for a smaller price. But I've watched a lot of other people who have added things like coffee and pastries in order to continue to draw customers."
The days of the drugstore soda fountain and the ice-cream parlor spoke to a slower pace, when treats were enjoyed as a social occasion instead of from a drive-through window. There was less concern about calories, carbs or butterfat content.
In recent years, the "cold-treat" concept has evolved, giving more competition to traditional hard-pack ice cream. Today you'll find soft-serve, frozen yogurt, frozen custard, gelato, Italian ice and smoothies all vying for one's sweet tooth.
The giant ice-cream brand Dreyer's Grand bought Snelgrove's in 1989. The ice cream parlor next to the plant closed in 2002. Then two weeks ago Dreyer's announced it was discontinuing the Snelgrove brand, citing declining sales. Readers reported trying to buy the last of the burnt almond fudge or Canadian vanilla at their grocery store, only to find that it had already been snapped up by other panicked customers.
"We knew we would feel some repercussions on this, but it was a business decision that had to be made," said Snelgrove spokesperson Gary Lay. "The bottom line was that the brand itself had lost popularity, and Dreyer's has so many more core flavors that make it more popular with the younger consumers."
Lay said that contrary to rumors, Dreyer's didn't change the Snelgrove formula. "We basically resurrected the brand years ago with new packaging and marketing, trying to make it work. We purchased it 15-plus years ago, so it's not like this is something we just bought last year and threw out the window overnight."
He said the company has committed to "see if some of the Snelgrove core flavors could be rolled into Dreyer's line."
He added that Dreyer's is well-known nationally, and Snelgrove "wasn't known at all. We had very limited distribution outside of Utah, and even outside the Wasatch Front. It was a Utah-grown company, and we understood that when we came in. It was never intended to go nationally. We tried to make it a profitable partner with us."
He said that some of cutbacks on the variety of Snelgrove flavors available in grocery stores was determined at the store level. "There's only so much shelf space that all these products can go on."
Lay said Dreyer's didn't close the Snelgrove parlors. "They were independently owned and operated, and they closed on their own. Dreyer's didn't have a say in how they were run."
Overall, there's not been a decline in the popularity of ice cream in general, Lay said. "But there's only so much shelf space."
Farr Better Ice Cream
Although it was founded at the same time as Snelgrove, Michael Farr said the two businesses are different. "Snelgrove was hard-pack ice cream only. Ours is both hard-pack and soft-serve ice cream mixes."
He said Farr's supplies many companies with mixes for their soft-serve machines. It also supplies ice cream mixes to shops that customize it with various mix-ins on the premises. "The development of the microcreamery has nothing but helped our business." And the company's shop on 288 E. 21st Street in Ogden, marked by the giant neon sign reading "Farr Better Ice Cream," remains popular.
At 7:30 p.m. last Wednesday, five tables were filled with customers, and more were lined up at the counter. Some were dressed in suits and dresses, hinting that they might have just come from the LDS Temple across the street. Farr said the development of the Megaplex theater and Salomon Center two blocks away has also increased the shop's traffic.
A generous single scoop is $1.79, doubles are $2.99. The 70 flavors include just about everything from green pineapple to Bordeaux cherry to the usual pralines 'n' cream and rocky road. Over the years the company has mixed up local flavors such as Raptor Ripple, to honor the Ogden Raptors baseball team.
The Russell's brand is found in grocery stores and concession stands at the EnergySolutions Arena.
Industry statistics show that people still buy 49 percent of their ice cream in restaurants or quick-serve operations, compared with 41 percent in grocery stores, said Farr. Of the ice cream sold for food service, 57 percent is soft-serve and 43 percent is hard-pack.
Spotted Dog Creamery
People may have a hard time finding the Spotted Dog Creamery located behind a tire shop at 2980 S. State in South Salt Lake. You can buy pints of Utah peach, coconut, dulce or de leche and other flavors at the factory store, but owner John Winders hopes that you'll soon be able to find them in most local grocery stores.
They are already in specialty shops, such as The Store and Emigration Market, and four Smith's stores on Salt Lake's east side. He said in the future the brand will be found on the shelves at Harmons and Associated Foods stores.
He's got the perennial favorites, such as cookie dough and vanilla, but Winders specializes in unusual flavors. His green tea, lemon grass, red bean and crystallized ginger flavors are served in local Asian restaurants and sushi bars. Since Winders tries to use local, seasonal ingredients, the peach, plum, cantaloupe and pumpkin flavors are available only in late summer and fall. But the baklava bash — a cinnamon-walnut flavor with chunks of baklava — is available year-round.
The New Hampshire native began making ice cream while working as a personal chef in Park City. He sold it in farmer's markets and perfected his product with help from local dairy experts at Utah State University and the Brigham Young University Creamery.
"After a couple years, the response was so huge that we have grown from 1,200 square feet to 12,000 square feet," he said. "My goals are to become that regional brand that's the best we can make."
He's gotten attention from national magazines such as Bon Apetite, and long-distance customers have asked Winders to meet them at freeway offramps to sell them gallons of the stuff.
A pint sells for about $4. It may be more expensive than a lot of mainstream brands, but Winders says his product has more butterfat (15 percent) and less air whipped into it (32 percent overrun). More butterfat and less air results in a richer, creamier product. Federal standards require that in order to be labeled "ice cream," it must contain 10 percent butterfat, or about 7 grams per half-cup serving; low-fat ice cream contains no more than 2.6 percent.
Another plus: It doesn't have to travel from Vermont, as with Ben & Jerry's; or California, as with Haagen-Dazs, for those worried about carbon footprints or freshness.
"The shelf life of ice cream is is about nine months, but once you make it, it never improves from there," he said. "I tell people to eat local, eat natural and eat small portions of the good stuff."
There are no artificial ingredients. The cherry chocolate chip flavor is studded with plump, whole cherries, but there's no garish pink hue. He buys local ingredients whenever possible. The milk and peaches come from farms around Utah; the Montmorency cherries from Willard Bay.
"I love Utah, and I'm trying to use my business as a way to connect with my community," he said.
He's not trying to compete with corporate giants like Dreyer's. "My annual production is their daily production," he said. "But mine is made very hands-on, with close attention to detail. If I get a small piece of the action, I'll be fine."
Ice Cream Facts
Favorite topping: chocolate
41.4%: Percentage of total ice-cream sales that premium ice cream represents
Annual retail ice-cream sales: $11 billion
23.2 quarts: Amount of frozen dairy products (ice cream, sherbet, etc.) consumed annually by each American.
Top U.S. cities for ice cream comsumption per capita): Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Seattle
98%: Percentage of households that buy ice cream
2. New Zealand
3. Butter pecan