If you're craving a cool, refreshing, tasty, and cheap ice cream treat, you may be forgiven for thinking that ice cream is ice cream is ice cream. As our panel of six taste testers discovered, however, there's a difference between just okay ice cream treats and those that hit the sweet spot. More importantly, price doesn't seem to matter all that much. We organized a blind tasting of several types of ice cream novelties, including the classic versions of sandwiches, bars, and cones from three budget brands: Klondike, Nestle, and the Kroger store brand. To ensure a more credible assessment of cheap ice cream treats, we threw in ice cream bar samples from two premium brands: Dove and Haagen-Dazs.
Ice Cream Treats Taste Test
Ice cream treats vary widely in price. At our local Kroger in Columbus, Ohio, ice cream sandwiches were the cheapest, cones were the most expensive, and bars were squished in between. In the Cheapism price niche, our research found that an individual ice cream treat can be had for as little as 30 cents and as much as $1, while an upmarket alternative could easily ring up higher than $1.50.
Among the array of cheap ice cream novelties in our test, the in-house Kroger brand was the least costly across the board. The day we shopped the unit price for a Kroger Sammie sandwich was 31 cents; an Arctic Blaster bar costs 25 cents; and a Fun Daze Sundae cone was tagged at 60 cents. The priciest ice cream treat we sampled was the Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar (the only comparable treat we found from this brand), whose unit price was $1.60. The DoveBar with Vanilla Ice Cream and Milk Chocolate also exceeded our price ceiling, coming in with a unit price of $1.43. Klondike ice cream treats were acceptably within budget: a unit price of 58 cents for both an Original bar and a Classic Vanilla sandwich (no cones with this brand). Prices for Nestle's bars and sandwiches froze in the budget segment, as well, with a unit price of 83 cents for both the Eskimo Pie and the Vanilla Sandwich while the Nestle Drumstick came in at 92 cents.
We asked the panelists to rank each ice cream treat in its respective grouping, from best to worst. While many expressed a pre-tasting preference for Haagen-Dazs products in general, the taste test failed to affirm this initial bias. In the end, the low-cost ice cream novelties we tested held their own against, or bested, the ice cream bars bearing premium-brand labels -- cause enough for frugal ice cream lovers to cheer.
What criteria did panel members use to assess one cheap ice cream treat against another? Very early on it became clear that all of our judges were looking for similar characteristics. Flavor was first and foremost; any hint of an artificial taste was decidedly frowned upon. For the ice cream bars, tasters wanted an outer shell with a definite chocolate flavor and a nice, snappy crunch. For the sandwiches and cones, the outer shell (cookie/biscuit or waffle cone, respectively) also had to pass the crunch test. In part, these criteria meant that the treats had to be fresh, and not stale. And of course, the vanilla ice cream that filled out all the novelties we sampled had to stand as a worthy partner to the accompanying chocolate.
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In the sandwich category, the judges favored the Kroger Sammie, ranked the Klondike Classic Vanilla a close second, and relegated the Nestle Vanilla Sandwich to last place. For the bar variety of inexpensive ice cream treats, tasters elevated the Klondike Original to first place, assigned the Nestle Eskimo Bar to runner-up status, and left the Kroger Arctic Blaster melting in last place. The DoveBar earned enough votes to rank as another best in that category, while the Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar was a surprising wash-out; given the rules of the tasting, however, the un-cheap prices disqualified both products from a listing in the official results. Of the two cones we sampled -- the Nestle Drumstick and the comparable Kroger Fun Daze Sundae -- the Nestle treat won out, although the Kroger cone claimed its share of fans.
Ice Cream Sandwiches.The Kroger Sammie (31 cents), Klondike Classic Vanilla (58 cents), and Nestle Vanilla Sandwich (83 cents) ranked best, good, and don't bother, respectively, in our blind tasting of ice cream novelties. But even the last-place finisher evaded a volley of barbs, suggesting that low price is no barrier to a satisfying ice cream treat. Of the winning Kroger store brand, whose chocolate cookie shell and ice cream center proved to be the winning combination, our reviewers served up a host of compliments. One taster summed up the consensus by declaring the Kroger Sammie presented "crunchy chocolate, good ice cream, and sweet lingering aftertaste." Several others described the ice cream flavor as "excellent."
The runner-up, Klondike Classic Vanilla, garnered several comments on the order of "overall delicious." One person concluded that the taste was "great" but "the wafer was too soft." Our jury split over the Nestle Vanilla Sandwich. Some members really liked it, while others deemed the ice cream lackluster. Said one taster: "The chocolate sandwich is good, but the ice cream is not my favorite." Several panelists dittoed this assessment.
Ice Cream Bars.The bars category included the most competitors angling for first-place bragging rights. In addition to samples from the three budget brands (Klondike, Nestle, and Kroger), the panel tasted bars from Dove and Haagen-Dazs. The Nestle Eskimo Pie (83 cents), Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar ($1.60), and DoveBar with Vanilla Ice Cream and Milk Chocolate ($1.43) all come on a stick; the Klondike Original (58 cents) and Kroger Arctic Blaster (25 cents) arrive as simple chocolate-coated rectangles of vanilla ice cream. This small detail didn't seem to affect the panel's collective verdict.
Klondike took the lead here alongside the high-priced DoveBar, which was merely a symbolic co-winner due to its upmarket price. One judge concluded that the Klondike bar was "by far the best" given its "creamy ice cream and great chocolate" shell. The "thick chocolate shell" of the DoveBar likewise was a hit with the crowd. Nestle's Eskimo Pie earned the runner-up spot owing to mixed assessments. Tasters told us the flavor was "okay" but the ice cream, on its own, failed to satisfy.
The Kroger store brand took a fall in this phase of our ice cream treats tasting. After snatching first place in the sandwich category with the Sammie, its Arctic Blaster bar landed in last place. A majority of panelists said the chocolate outer shell "wasn't quite right." One person described the taste as "odd," an adjective several others echoed. Almost unbelievably, given the brand's reputation and popularity, the Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar tanked as reviewers offered up split opinions. Said one panelist, who succinctly captured the tart reaction to this entry: "I don't like the taste of the chocolate, but the ice cream is good."