Tuesday, November 4, 2014

READER REVIEW: Elliot's Review of Graeter's Mocha Chocolate Chip

Graeter's Mocha Chocolate Chip recently began appearing locally among a throng of other Graeter’s flavors we’ve had available for the past few years. Taking this as a sign their national expansion push is going well, I welcomed the opportunity to try a new flavor.

Graeter’s started out by employing a French pot process - and still do, to some degree. I’m not sure how much of their product is still made this way. About four years ago, they decided to go national with pints with the help of friends and neighbors : Cincinnati-based Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US. How does a company whose entire production line of 32 2 gallon French Pots supply enough hand packed ice cream for over 4500 stores at $6 a pint with any consistency while guarding against pathogen introduction? They will never tell you they are co-packing their product to scale up, but marketing aside, if you believe that every pint is hand packed, you probably believe elves are busy making the kids’ toys in Santa’s workshop.

After recently enjoying some heavyweight coffee flavors, a mild coffee flavor like this one was akin to sipping coffee with cream after growing accustomed to black. There was nothing remarkable about this pint: a mild coffee ice cream meets Graeter's chips, falls in love, roll credits. The texture is decent because they hold overrun down lower than the batch frozen stuff out there.

While they aren’t the artisan purveyors they once were, my hope is that this brand further displaces the Breyer's, Edy's and other extremely high overrun foam that currently hogs the shelf space in grocers' freezers. Some may balk at paying $6 for a pint when you are able to buy a quart of light ice cream for $3, but there is no something for nothing. "Less expensive" ice cream is a lot of air, cheap ingredients, gums and stabilizers.

Why am I less enthusiastic about Graeter's? They could've held the ground for real, French Pot ice cream and true quality, but they sold out. And that, I can't stand. There aren’t enough artisan brands left. It’s much easier to find companies throwing around the term “artisan” loosely.

Where Elliot Found It: Dierberg’s Markets
Elliot's Grade: B


  1. Dear Elliot:

    I would like to personally invite you to come to Cincinnati and visit our ice cream plant. Even though our plant is not open to the public, I will give you a private tour so you can see with your own eyes how Graeter’s makes artisan ice cream and that we did not sell out. I can understand how you may have thought that we sold out, after all, all the other once "artisanal" brands like Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, and Talenti sold out years ago, but I can assure you that my family did not sell out and I am willing to let you in behind the scenes to prove it!

    Graeter’s Ice Cream is still made in 2½ gallon batches on our custom French Pot freezers. No other ice cream anywhere on the plant is still made this way. You cannot even buy the machines. That makes Graeter’s the last truly craft artisanal ice cream. It takes about 20 minutes for each one of our 32 French Pots to freeze a batch of ice cream. We freeze ice cream 20 hours a day. If you do the math, that means we can freeze 4,800 gallons of ice cream a day. At 200 production days annually, that translates to a capacity of 960,000 gallons of ice cream. We do not run at capacity (yet), however.

    Of this production, we hand-pack about 4 million pints every year (the rest we pack in bulk to serve at our scoop shops). That is about 20,000 pints per day. One of our packers can pack about 15 pints a minute (you can see Eric packing pints on our YouTube channel). So even with a 10-minute break, a top packer like Eric can fill 750 pints an hour. So again, do the math, 4 million pints annually over 200 production days at 20 hours a day means we only need to pack 1,000 pints per hour. So a few dedicated employees (we call them ice cream artisans) can absolutely hand pack enough ice cream to supply our fans from coast to coast--no elves required!

    While it may be uncommon these days to find a dedicated family business that stays true to its core values, Graeter’s is still that family business. The Graeter family was making artisan ice cream long before it was cool--for four generations since 1870. I am sorry that it seems so hard to believe today, but a dedicated family can work hard to grow a little without compromising on quality. After all, it is not growth that destroys a brand; it is selling out to the highest bidder that destroys a brand. Haagen Dazs is Nestle and Ben & Jerry’s is Unilever. But while these other once super-premium brands are now mass produced by two of the world's largest corporations, Graeter's is still 100% family owned and operated. We have just three shareholders--my two cousins and me. And we are blessed to have scores of very dedicated employees who take great pride in their work to honor our family's 144-year tradition of making the best ice cream possible.

    So no, Elliot, we did not sell out. And I hope you take me up on my offer to prove it to you. I am sure that you would not want to insult my employees' work ethic or disparage my family’s reputation, so please take the time to learn about Graeter’s Ice Cream and why we are special and unique, and then correct your blog post. And know that there is a 5th Generation of the Graeter family who are still just kids, and their reputation is on the line too. I hope that one day they will continue our family tradition of making small batch craft ice cream 2½ gallons at a time. That is what we do and we are the ONLY ice cream maker anywhere on the planet who still does.

    Richard Graeter
    President of Graeter's Ice Cream

    PS - And while it costs much more to make ice cream the way we do, we appreciate that ice cream is still ice cream and show a little appreciation for our customers by keeping our prices reasonable. Yes, $6 a pint is a small premium over the national brands, but when other “artisan” brands charge $8, $10, or even an outrageous $12 a pint, I think that Graeter’s is not only the best product on the market, but the best value on the shelf as well.

  2. Well Elliot, there ya go. Thanks for stopping in and clearing things up for us Richard!

  3. Thanks, Richard. Scaling up is no easy feat, I'm sure.

    Do you have others co-packing / doing contract manufacturing for you?

    1. Elliott

      We make 100% of our ice cream, gelatos, and sorbets in our own plant in Cincinnati, Ohio. We exclusively use our French Pot freezers to make 100% of our products. We hand pack every single pint. We do not use co-packers or contract manufacturers, nor we do manufacture product for other brands (although we are often asked). That is about as plain as I can state it, and I renew my invitation to you to come to Cincinnati to see for yourself if you still have any doubts.


      Richard Graeter

  4. Thanks Richard, but I still have 2 questions for you:

    1) Aren't your "French Pots" identical in basic design and function to the Cattabriga EFFE gelato machines?

    And, what about McConnell's French Pots? Did they buy them from Graeter's or from a supplier in France?

    2) Graeter's Vanilla is an excellent tasting ice cream!…however, Elliot seems to be correct in his perception that, despite your claims to the contrary, a "sell-out" has indeed happened by simply pumping more air in the product while denying that the product is now mass-produced by contract packagers. Please explain the MISSING 52g of Vanilla Ice Cream in each and every new-style pint with 2014 copyright dates, vs the previous design with 2008 copyright dates.

    4fl oz servings are shown as follows: 2008= 114g (or 456g/pint), 2014=101g (or 404g/pint), so 456-404=52g. Labels are regulated by law, and my own measurement of your new pint was 99g (396g for the pint after removing the empty package weight). 101g or 99g (close enough) is significantly more air than Ben & Jerry's (107g), slightly more than Haagen-Dazs (102g), but most interestingly, let's compare with McConnell's Vanilla Bean, which also claims to use a French Pot process. McConnells shows a label of 106g, but Elliott's review of their Sweet Cream flavor claims "under 10% air", and my measurements of McConnells Vanilla Bean show a 4fl oz serving weighs 110.5g…and when you eat them side by side, Graeter's is very noticeably much foamier/airier and lighter-weight than McConnell's.

    Please explain what happened to the 52g of missing ice cream per pint when your new logo was introduced, and also explain why McConnell's French Pot Ice Cream has much lower air content than Graeter's--are Graeter's newer motorized French Pots pumping in more air where the old hand-paddle ones (as shown on a Food Network video years ago) unable to add more air?

    Thank you for clarifying this issue for all of us.

    1. Dear Jeff

      Our French Pot freezers are similar to the Cattabriga EFFE gelato machines, but we custom make our French Pots right here in Ohio. The Cattabriga machines are not robust enough to make our chocolate chips, which requires that we freeze the ice cream a little harder than gelato.

      McConnell's may have used a similar machine, but the McConnell family no longer owns the brand. The new owners talk a good game about some "hybrid" machine, but they will never show you a video of this mystery machine. Other manufacturers often try to rip off our brand equity and claim that they are like Graeter's, but why would you settle for something "like" Graeter's when you can have the real thing?

      Concerning the missing 52 grams, ice cream is sold by volume (fluid ounces), not weight (grams). The big guys like this as they pump their product full of air, so their pints look like ours even though they have much less actual product in them. Some "pints" are not even 16 fluid ounces. For example, a "pint" of Haagen Dazs is only 14 fluid ounces. So not only is it full of air, it is also physically smaller than a pint a Graeter's, so a consumer gets hit with a double whammy when they buy Haagen Dazs ice cream.

      The gram measurement you refer to is about the serving size for nutritional information. We used to use a standard 114-gram serving size for all our flavors to calculate the nutritional information, which slightly overstated the calories, fat and sugar. By law, NLEA data can have a 20% variance to the "bad" side, so it is safer from a regulatory standpoint to overstate the bad things like calories, fat grams, and sugar. When we moved to new packaging, we took careful measurements for each flavor and averaged the weights across hundreds of pints to come up with a more accurate serving size weight for each individual flavor.

      Finally, you cannot compare serving size weights of ice creams without taking into account the flavors and inclusions. A pint of Ben and Jerry's can easily weight more than a pint of Graeter's because the inclusions that B&J mix into their ice cream often weigh more than the ice cream. Our flavors vary too; our vanilla only weighs 101 grams per serving, but our Cookie Dough Chocolate Chip weighs 112 grams. To be accurate, you need to compare plain vanilla for each brand.

      And as for any brand’s claim that they have less than 10% air, I don't believe it and neither should you. Plain water expands 9% when it freezes. Cream mixed with sugar turned into ice cream will expand at least 20%. Don't just read the NLEA labels, which again, are not a statement of net contents; use a gram scale. Take a pint of Graeter's plain vanilla and put it on a gram scale, then compare it to a pint of plain vanilla from any other brand. The grams will tell.

      Jeff, the Graeter family has been making French Pot ice cream for over 145 years. We are still 100% family owned. We still make 100% of our ice cream in Cincinnati, Ohio, in French Pots, and every pint is still hand-packed. And in spite of all this, a pint of Graeter's only costs a little bit more than a pint of Haagen Dazs because I simply do not believe in a $12 pint of ice cream. Basically, our biggest marketing spend is in our price. If you ever pay more for a pint of "artisan" ice cream than you do for a pint of Graeter's, then you are paying for a lot of hype and marketing. Ice cream is not supposed to be exotic; it is a simple American pleasure to its very core. In 2002, Oprah said it best when she served Graeter's to her studio audience: "This is the best ice cream that I ever tasted!" And she was serving our plain vanilla!

      Richard Graeter,

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  9. Graeter's was founded in 1870 by Bavarian immigrants Regina and Louis "Charlie" Graeter. After Charlie's death, Regina took over the business, opening new locations and building a name for the business. Graeter's remains a family-owned and operated business, staying true to Regina's stubborn passion for quality and continues to produce ice cream in two-gallon batches using the French Pot freezers.[7]

    "French pot" process[edit]
    Graeter's ice cream is made using the French Pot method. This is a slow, small batch process making only two gallons at a time. It creates ice cream that is rich, creamy and dense. Graeter's also uses this method to create chocolate chips completely different from other brands.[8] Gourmet chocolate is then poured over the now creamy ice cream leaving an incredibly delicious shell of chocolate. It is then broken up and mix it into the ice cream, resulting in totally unique and one of a kind chunks of chocolate chip. [9]

    The French Pot process begins with the mix being placed into a chilled, spinning French Pot.[5]

    Each batch of ice cream is only about two gallons (7.6 L) and is thus very labor-intensive. The ice cream comes out of the French Pot ready to eat. While delicious, it is too thick to pump into pint (473 mL) containers like most ice cream makers. The only solution is an old fashioned one, roll up your sleeves and get to hand-packing. On a typical day they hand pack nearly 20,000 pints, with their fastest packers averaging up to 15 pints a minute.


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