Shoppers Scream for Gourmet Ice Cream

Ice cream sales generate big dollars in the United States. $10 billion, to be exact, in 2011 (1). Manufacturers in the competitive ice cream space are pulling out all the stops to grab their piece of the pie (à la mode, of course). The results are some pretty unique high-end gourmet products that are far from vanilla. We’re seeing outside-the-carton ingredients and flavor combinations like herbs and salty-sweet varieties that have piqued the interest of shoppers. And the cherry on top are premium ingredients that bring products to new levels in terms of flavor and social responsibility.

This month’s Gourmet Guru is Neal Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins Ice Cream ( The company has four scoop shops in Northern California and a wholesale line of organic, gourmet ice creams for sale at retail stores nationwide.

WholeFoods: In a recent survey of U.S. manufacturers, 79.3% cited premium ice creams as their most popular product, beating out regular ice cream and frozen novelties (1). In your view, what are the key differences between a gourmet ice cream and your run-of-the-mill supermarket brand?

  Neal Gottlieb, founder of Three Twins Ice Cream

Gottlieb: At least in the case of Three Twins Ice Cream, the biggest difference is that we don’t take shortcuts. We make our ice cream with a base of organic milk, organic cream, organic sugar and organic eggs. We don’t use fractional milk products like whey powder, corn syrup or seaweed derivatives. We also don’t pump it full of lots of air. The result is ice cream that tastes exactly the way that it should: inconceivably delicious.

WholeFoods: Your line incorporates some unique flavor combinations, including several savory ones like Strawberry Je Ne Sais Quoi, which adds balsamic vinegar to strawberry ice cream, Dad’s Cardamom and Bittersweet Chocolate. How did these ideas come about? Why do you feel that shoppers are drawn to flavors like these in ice cream?

Gottlieb: I believe in making ice cream with real, delicious ingredients, rather than things trying to taste like other things. Strawberry ice cream can be challenging because when you use enough strawberries—which are mostly water—to make an ice cream with a bold strawberry taste, you end up with an icy ice cream. Most ice cream companies counter this by using strawberry “flavoring” which is an example of a thing trying to taste like another thing, but it really doesn’t taste like strawberry, and I would argue that it doesn’t really taste like food. We add a splash of balsamic vinegar not to try to fool the taste buds, but because it is a complementary flavor that makes for an exceptionally delicious strawberry ice cream.

Dad’s Cardamom came about in the early days when there weren’t a lot of organic products on the market. So I went through the UNFI catalogue and made a list of every organic ingredient that could possibly make for a great flavor.

Three Twins Ice Cream uses a base of organic milk, organic cream, organic sugar and organic eggs, which makes it “inconceivably delicious.”  

I think that certain consumers are drawn to these flavors because they are looking for new taste experiences that are not just different, but also delicious.

WholeFoods: What went into your choice of using dark chocolate and cocoa as opposed to chocolate chips or milk chocolate, like so many manufacturers use?

Gottlieb: Chocolate chips in ice cream can be problematic. They’re often rock hard or waxy and really don’t impart much flavor into ice cream. By melting dark chocolate and injecting it into our ice cream as it comes out of the freezer, we end up with beautiful checks of dark chocolate that have a great texture and add a lot of flavor.

We also use a lot more cocoa in our ice cream to give it a bold chocolate flavor, because that’s a way for us to differentiate from the hoards of under-flavored chocolate ice creams.
WholeFoods: You’ve done some unique things with crushed cookies in your line. Can you talk about why you made the choice to use them?

Gottlieb: Most cookies and cream ice cream is made with plain ice cream (presumably to save a few pennies on vanilla) and chunks of cookies. Our Cookies & Cream starts out with our Madagascar Vanilla base because it makes for a much tastier ice cream than a plain base. We then liquefy cookies into the base and then add chunks of cookies on top of that. The result is flavor on top of flavor on top of flavor and it is so much better than the cookies and cream formulated by some company’s cost accountant.

WholeFoods: What flavor trends are on the horizon in the world of gourmet desserts and ice cream?
Gottlieb: I think that you’re going to see more and more flavors crossing over from the conventional world. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Brownie Batter Chunk anyone?

WholeFoods: Yes, please! Your brand also distinguishes itself by using Fair Trade vanilla extract in some flavors. Do you feel gourmet shoppers are drawn to Fair Trade? Is more education needed about this issue?

Gottlieb: There is definitely more education needed on this issue. While some consumers know what it is, I generally think that Fair Trade is where organic was about 10 years ago.
WholeFoods: And with brands like yours, perhaps we’ll see an uptick in companies incorporating Fair Trade ingredients in the coming years. WF

1. International Dairy Foods Association, “Ice Cream Sales & Trends,”—views/media-kits/ice-cream/ice-cream-sales-and-trends, accessed Feb. 24, 2014.

Photos courtesy of Three Twins Ice Cream.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2014