Drinks with Pat: Not your dad’s ice cream

Pat Evans

It’s summertime, and sometimes there’s nothing better on a hot, humid evening than a scoop of ice cream.

There are lots of great ice cream joints around town — whether it’s Furniture City Creamery or Love’s Ice Cream & Chocolate, or my childhood haunt of Jersey Junction. But in the summer, it’s good practice to have an emergency pint in the fridge.

There is, of course, a hometown loyalty of sorts to Hudsonville Ice Cream, but recently, I received a press release from United Dairy Farmers, which was releasing its new “super-premium brand of ice cream” called Main Avenue Creamery. Grand Rapids is one of the first markets outside Ohio to receive the new ice cream from the fourth-generation company.

I chatted with CEO Brad Lindner to really understand what “premium ice cream” means and why it makes his ice cream special and competitive with brands like Häagen-Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s. The category is up 7% year over year, and his ice cream is available at stores such as Family Fare and D&W Fresh Market.

Pat: What makes it super premium ice cream? And why make it now?

Brad: A couple of things: first and foremost is the desire to do it right, and we’ve been in business for over 80 years making ice cream. We probably could have gotten to it sooner, but we wanted to make sure we put the best foot forward. It took us a long time to establish the makeup of the ice cream. Typically, the super premium is really based upon the creaminess or fat content, as well as the density of the ice cream or lack of the air. All ice cream starts out as a liquid mix, and as it goes through the freezer, there is some level of air whipped into it. Even a backyard hand crank will whip air into it.

Ideally, I would say a threshold for super premium might be 14% fat content and less than what we call overrun. It is similar to proof in distilling — 100% would be 50% air, so super-premium (is) somewhere along that 35% to less overrun, a fair amount less air than you get in a supermarket grade or Eddy’s and Breyer’s — they’d be closer to 100%. Main Avenue is closer to 30s.

The other thing: why now? Besides taking our time to come up with what we feel is (an) outstanding product, it’s one of the strongest growing categories/subcategories of ice cream. The pints are moving, the consumers like them, and the retailers like them, too, because it’s a higher-priced ring in a smaller footprint versus a 5-gallon bucket, and they make about the same amount on a pint. There’s a real desire from retail trade.

Pat: Why is Grand Rapids one of the first markets?

Brad: We have been doing business in the Michigan market for more than 20 years through mostly the homemade ice cream brand. We’ve been in and out of Kroger and Meijer and pretty consistently in the independent markets, and so we’ve had a pretty long history, as well as a high level of acceptance from the folks up north regarding the homemade ice cream. So we’re coming out with the new line of Main Avenue, and it just made sense to follow the existing footprint that we already have.

Pat: Why is super premium popular now?

Brad: Same with craft beer or burger joints selling $20 burgers. Households are changing, boomers are two-person households now mostly, and the younger demographics maybe are getting into family later in life, and it allows them to be a little more indulgent.

Pat: What’s your favorite flavor?

Brad: Coming from the Midwest, we are fairly rooted in common sense. We’re not hitting the extreme spectrum of flavor creation. We thought we would launch with some fairly, some might call it boring — sometimes boring is pretty good — especially proven flavors populations tend to gravitate toward.

I’d go with butter pecan, coffee and chocolate peanut butter.

What’s Pat drinking

I came down with COVID-19 this week — I had one heck of a night with a high fever where I just could not get warm. That was rough. So, needless to say, I’ve mostly been drinking water and Gatorade. Don’t worry, Mom, I kept the fluids flowing.

For the Fourth, however, I’ll be dipping back into a tried-and-true beer that’s long been one of my favorites: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Sierra Nevada is one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement, and along with the amazing flagship, it also makes a wide array of cool, new, innovative beers, including its line of “Hazy Little” beers. Check them out.

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