December 2000, COVER

'Ice Cream' on the Rocks

Its developer says Blend's is just a frozen treat for adults,
but critics fear the appeal of liquor a la mode to kids.

The newest ice cream style frozen dessert on the market, offered by The Ice Cream Bar, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., has everyone screaming–though not necessarily for ice cream. With an alcohol–yes, alcohol–content ranging from 5 to 10 proof, about the same amount as in a beer, an aerated, solid-like-ice cream frozen dessert called Blend's® has critics ranting, buyers considering and adults applauding.

Offered in classic ice cream drink flavors such as Pink Squirrel, Grasshopper, and Brandy Alexander, Blend's is only one of the recent innovations combining alcohol with popular consumer products. Other successes, such as lemon-flavored alcoholic drinks and fruity alcoholic mixers, have created a resurgence in the classic drink market. "There is a lot of innovation in new products," says Gary Hemphill of Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York City-based beverage research and consulting firm. "[Companies] are appealinng to people who don't like alcohol but still want to drink it." And now similar spirituous products are sneaking their way into your nearest freezer case.

Daryl Orris, Ph.D., president and owner of The Ice Cream Bar, Inc., calls his new product "ice cream with an intoxicating difference." And different it is. Actually, it can't even be called "ice cream." Categorized by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a distilled spirits product because of its alcohol content, Blend's is only available to those of legal drinking age and can only be sold in places where liquor can be sold.

Wal-Mart Interested
However, according to test markets conducted by Viking Creative Concepts, Minneapolis, Minn., adults are willing to travel to the liquor store, or to supermarkets in the 23 U.S. states which allow grocers to sell liquor, to pick up the intoxicating treat. Not only are adults excited about this new product, but so are retailers, Orris says, "Stores such as Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven have already expressed interest," he says. His company will introduce three of the 33 flavors this winter in states like Florida, where the climate is suitable for the product, and will expand into a national rollout soon after.

Critics however, disagree that the product is suitable for any type of environment. "It's just another means of introducing alcohol to new consumers," says George Hacker, director of alcohol policies for the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. "It's a reflection of how cavalier we are when it comes to America's No. 1 drug." Although it's not marketed toward minors, Hacker sees the product appealing to young people who may like ice cream but not necessarily alcohol.

The intent of Blend's, according to Orris, is to make different liqueurs known to the 21-to-55 year-old female demographic who may never have been exposed to liqueurs before. He says that underage consumption is "pretty remote and pretty unlikely."

Nonetheless, Orris had to deal with backlash from critics such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) as it voiced its opinion of the product, saying that the over-seal on each container required by the ATF is not enough to keep children out. However, recent test marketing of Blend's showed that adults had trouble breaking the seal, proving to Orris that kids will have an even harder time getting into the product. "And once open, if parents keep it out of reach like alcohol, this should not be a problem," he adds.

Secret recipe
The concept for the product came to Orris while working on an assignment for Philips Products Co. and Marigold Foods. Although the companies did not pick up the idea, "it stuck in my mind," he says. Not long after, he contacted Dr. Charley Pine, who developed the stabilization processs for Bailey's Irish Cream, and recruited him and other leading scientists at the University of Minnesota for the job. The secret stabilization process prevents the alcohol molecule from interacting with the milk proteins, making it possible for a product like Blend's to be created.

Using the same recipes as top bars and restaurants in the U.S., Blend's combines premium ice cream and liquors and liqueurs into a solid ice cream type distilled spirits product which also can be blended into an intoxicating drink. With an SRP of $.99 to $1.49 for the 100ml size and $14.85 to $17.85 for the 1.75 liter size, the price breaks down to about $2 for an 8-oz. drink/serving. Orris says that the price is a great buy compared to the drink prices at a bar which could run the consumer about $5 to $15 for an 8-oz. drink.

Considerable Market
Nevertheless, James F. Mosher, senior policy advisor and former executive director of the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, San Rafael, Calif., says, "We need to keep alcohol as a separate product and not flavored in a way to appeal to young people's palettes." Mosher feels that products like these are highly irresponsible and that "the more notice we can give the better."

But feelings such as these don't seem to be deterring adults from enjoying Blend's in test markets, which leaves Orris predicting that the product will do well with consumers. "There is a considerable market out there," he says.

So what's next for the company? The Ice Cream Bar, Inc. is in the talks with the Taylor Corp., a freezer company, to develop a specialized machine to offer soft-serve versions of Blend's to foodservice companies internationally. Wonder what the critics will say about that?