7-Eleven, Wells' Blue Bunny Go Stir Crazy

Published in CSP Daily News

Retailer, dairy introduce freezer-case soft-serve dessert

DALLAS -- 7-Eleven Inc. and Wells' Dairy Inc., maker of Blue Bunny ice cream, frozen novelties and fresh yogurt, have created Stir Crazy, the first stirable soft-serve frozen dessert available in the freezer case, complete with its own mix-ins.

Each cup of the soft-serve style vanilla dairy dessert contains one of two mix-ins, chocolate chip cookie dough or Oreo cookie pieces, separated by a thin layer of milk chocolate that is soft enough to stir straight from the freezer.

Available exclusively at participating 7-Eleven stores, [image-nocss] an 11-oz. cup of Stir Crazy has a suggested retail price of $1.99.

7-Eleven approached the Wells' Dairy team about creating a similar product that could be sold as a frozen novelty in its stores in response to consumers' growing taste for frozen blender treats and made-to-order cold surface-blended ice creams.

Soft-serve frozen desserts typically have been exclusively available through foodservice establishments, said Jessica Strauss, 7-Eleven's category manager overseeing the product's development. We wanted to offer our customers a similar type of product in a convenient way.

We had two huge challenges, said Matt Wolkow, assistant vice president of research and development for Wells' Dairy. First, soft-serve is typically dispensed from a machine at between 19 and 23 degrees, while retail freezer-case temperatures stay between 0 and minus 10 degrees. How could we get soft-serve to behave like soft-serve at 0 degrees? And, if we could accomplish that, could we make it taste good?

Three years and dozens of trial-and-error attempts later, the answer was yes. 7-Eleven's Strauss wanted to take the concept even further. As long as we were creating a stirable treat, why not add something to stir into it?

Blended ice cream has been at the forefront of growth in the frozen dessert market. The 1990s marked the emergence of blender treats at quick-service restaurants, which featured soft-serve dairy products mixed with candy and cookie pieces, according to the U.S. Market for Ice Cream report published by Packaged Facts in 2004.

Following this popular trend, a new wave of scoop shops opened, such as Cold Stone Creamery, creating the cold-surface blending technique whereby a customer picks an ice cream flavor and various pieces of candy, cookies, nuts and fruits to be mixed together on a cold surface by an employee and served in a cup or cone. Cold-surface blending is the most popular ice cream trend to surface recently, and hundreds of shops have popped up across America in the last few years.

We plan to offer more mix-ins, so customers can select and stir in their favorite, creating a customized dessert themselves," Strauss said.

Cookie dough and chocolate cookie pieces proved the most popular add-ins during consumer taste tests; however, another challenge arose. If the product was truly soft-serve, how would you keep the mix-ins from blending in during the distribution and shipping process before the customer even opened the product lid? And how would you keep cookie pieces from getting soggy when placed on top of soft-serve? A thin layer of chocolate was added to separate the soft-serve from the mix-ins, a step that required the addition of new technology and equipment in the production phase.

Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells' Dairy offers more than 500 Blue Bunny branded products, including fresh dairy yogurt, ice cream, frozen dairy desserts and novelties.