With two Twin Cities scoop shops and almost 20 years in business, Izzy's Ice Cream is embarking on a new project: an attempt to become a freezer-aisle brand as ubiquitous as Haagen-Dazs.
It is expanding its supermarket footprint in Minnesota first, then regionally, and, it hopes, nationally. And to do so, it has begun making its beloved local ice cream in Wisconsin.
"When we built our Minneapolis building, the dream and the goal was to be the regional craft or artisan ice cream," said Izzy's co-owner Jeff Sommers. "We've been missing huge segments of the population by being an only hand-packed product."
About a year and a half ago, the company began its new quest in earnest, refining nine of its flavors that it believed could take the brand national. Those include Chocolate Chip made with Callebaut Belgian chocolate, Butter Caramel Salted Swirl and Midnight Graham Crunch (formerly known as Midnight Snack).
"It took a year to develop a batch process that could match artisan ice cream-making," Sommers said.
That meant finding a way to translate the freshness of an ice cream shop product for a freezer shelf, while avoiding pitfalls of other supermarket brands. Most commercial chocolate chip ice creams, for instance, contain coconut oil, Sommers said. He didn't want to do that.
"It's really hard," he said. "I cannot [overstate] how hard it has been to make these nine flavors at scale."
Izzy's follows other artisanal ice creams into a wider market, like Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams from Columbus, Ohio, and Coolhaus from Culver City, Calif.
"I think people are seeing some of these purchases as an adventure or exploration," Sommers said.
He thinks there's potential for Izzy's to become the next Ben & Jerry's, which was once just a Vermont treat.
But to do that, Izzy's had to take its production outside the state. Sommers said he had been trying for years to find a way to make Izzy's on a supermarket scale in Minnesota, but manufacturers here were "too big."
For at least 15 years, staffers in the Twin Cities shops' kitchens were scooping Izzy's small-batch ice cream into about 1,000 white pint-size cartons a day. Sales were limited to Kowalski's, food co-ops, some Whole Foods markets and Pizza Luce outlets.
Now, by scaling the recipes up and teaming with Chocolate Shoppe, a Madison, Wis.-based food manufacturer, Izzy's will fill 10,000 cartons a day. The first new groceries to get it are Jerry's Foods and Lunds & Byerlys. Izzy's is aiming to land throughout the Midwest in Hy-Vee stores within the next year. It has its sight set on Cub Foods, too.
Most of the recipes and ingredients in the now-Wisconsin-made product are the same. "The dairy is sourced as it's always been," Sommers said.
But there are some differences. The new containers are 14 ounces, a smaller size to keep prices level at around $6.99 a carton in grocery stores. They are brown and more slickly designed than the former white pint carton with a big black dot for the Izzy's logo.
Some of the recipes have been tweaked slightly. The new chocolate flavor, made with Guittard, is "a more mainstream approach to chocolate ice cream," Sommers said.
The former Midnight Snack, a People's Flavor Awards winner, has been modified to incorporate "cleaner ingredient profiles," avoiding artificial ingredients in the original. The graham cracker ice cream with peanut butter swirls and chocolate chunks is now called Midnight Graham Crunch, due to a trademark issue.
The new version is what is now sold in the two local Izzy's shops at 1100 S. 2nd Av. in Minneapolis and 2034 Marshall Av., in St. Paul.
Grocery stores will also carry classic Vanilla, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Chip and Mint Chocolate Chip, along with three new flavors. Those are Butter Caramel Salted Swirl, a riff on Izzy's renowned Salted Caramel; Chocolate Caramel Superstar, which has crispy chocolate chunks and a caramel swirl; and Brown Sugar Bourbon, made with Knob Creek. More flavors should be added to the roster in six months to a year.
The rest of Izzy's many flavors will continue to churn in the Minneapolis shop, and any of those can be packed by hand — for now in the traditional white pint, but soon in those 14-ounce "tall cups." Nothing else is changing, Sommers assured. The shops, with their bonus "Izzy scoops," will remain in place — though no new ones are in the works. Sommers couldn't say whether the biennial People's Flavor Awards would continue.
At least one grocery store with the old pint-size Izzy's cartons is alerting customers to the change.
Tim and Tom's Speedy Market in St. Paul posted a sign on its freezer case noting that the new containers "will not be made in Minnesota, but in Madison, Wis."
"I just think people should know where the product is coming from," said Jake Spreigl, a manager at the market, by phone.
Sommers is aware there could be some backlash, but hopes Izzy's fans will support the company in its growth while it holds fast to its mission to make customers happy with good ice cream, whether from a store-bought container consumed at home or a cone purchased in the shop.
"I think they're equally honorable efforts," he said. "I don't think all grocery-store food is attempting to do that work, but being in a grocery store doesn't mean I'm not trying to do that work."
Customers "should trust us," he added. "We've earned it."
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853 Twitter: @SharynJackson