These are the sweltering and sticky days of summer, primed for a popular food holiday–National Ice Cream Day–which falls on Sunday, creating the chance for a weekend of sundaes, cones, milk shakes, parfaits, or other celebratory concoctions.
Perhaps you're a traditionalist, preferring ice cream of sublime butterfat, or consider non-dairy alternatives equally satisfying in frozen scoops of whipped-up nut milk, oats, soy, or coconut. There's even an alt-dairy ice cream of whey protein that's identical to cow's milk, which in 1984 President Ronald Reagan wasn't considering when he declared July to be National Ice Cream Month, and its third Sunday, National Ice Cream Day.
But enough of this history and ice cream talk. Wondering where you might celebrate the big day and perhaps get free ice cream? Here are some ideas:
• In a dessert/fashion mash-up, My/Mo Mochi Ice Cream will give shoppers free ice cream throughout the day in partnership with Japanese fashion retailer UNIQLO, including new triple-layer flavors like s'mores. The treats will be served in nine store locations across New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, and Chicago.
• Halo Top Creamery, the low-calorie ice cream, is partnering with the dating app Bumble to give away vouchers for free Halo Pops.
• So pets don't feel left out, PetSmart has free dog-friendly sundaes, which are normally reserved for pooches staying overnight in the chain's pet hotels.
• Williams Sonoma is churning and dishing up homemade ice through July 21, National Ice Cream Day, at all its locations.
• Virgin Atlantic airlines at its check-in counters is serving free ice cream to passengers, part of a summer-long treat.
Ice cream chain promotions
• Carvel is offering a buy-one-get-one on all soft-serve cups and cones.
• Cold Stone Creamery has a two-for-one special on custom creations.
• Baskin-Robbins is giving free delivery with DoorDash on orders of $10 or more (using code STRANGERTHINGS at checkout), plus discounted pints at scoop shops.
• Dippin' Dots customers get a free mini cup at participating locations.
• At Johnny Rockets you get one free ice cream shake with every purchase.
• Yogurtland, from 1 p.m. - 6 p.m., across its 320 U.S. locations, is offering a free fro-yo when you buy one.
Local and niche scoop shops
• New York City's Spot Dessert Bar, with three locations, has a new ice cream line, Scoop, which it's celebrating with a two-for-one sale.
• Los Angeles-based Pressed Juicery, the bicoastal vegan chain in California, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York, is serving up sundaes for $2 each.
• Portland-based, Salt & Straw, with locations elsewhere in Oregon, as well as California and Washington, will bring back cult-favorite flavor Chocolate Caramel Potato Chip Cupcake until Sunday, and donate all proceeds from the flavor to FoodCorps.
• In Philadelphia, Bassetts is hosting its annual Eat-and-Run 5K. Midway, runners eat a pint of ice cream, and then run the second half. Participants will be grouped in waves by flavor.
• Berkeley, Calif.-based Cream, with 17 locations in the Golden State, and shops in Denver, Miami, and Palm Beach, has a buy-any-scoop-get-a-second-free deal, on Sunday and Monday.
• Nutella Cafe is giving away 50 free Nutella pops from 3 p.m.-5 p.m., at its Chicago and New York locations. But if you're not one of the first 50, you can still get a free scoop of gelato.
• Cincinnati-based Graeter's, with locations in Ohio and Kentucky, as well as Chicago, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, is offering scoops for $1.49 to celebrate its 149th birthday.
• New York City-based Godiva cafes are offering a 50% off a second parfait or soft-serve ice cream.
• Scoop in Richmond, Virginia is taking $1 off profiterole sundaes.
• Ice Cream Jubilee in Washington, D.C., is throwing a free ice cream social at The Yards, where you can help eat a 100-foot sundae.
• Marble Slab Creamery and Maggie Moo's across the U.S. are celebrating Sunday through Thursday with a free kids' cup or cone when you buy a regular ice cream.
Americans' Favorite Flavors
While indulging your ice-cream cravings, you might ponder why vanilla, chocolate, cookies n' cream, and mint chocolate chip are America's favorite ice cream flavors, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. June and July are the busiest months for ice cream production, which as an industry contributes more than $39 billion annually to the U.S. economy and is responsible for 188,000 jobs.
It's interesting, too, that ice cream, although an important summer and year-round staple, isn't a big-growth business. In 2018, the ice cream industry posted a 1.7% year-over-year growth at current prices, which actually translates into a slight decline when adjusted for inflation. "Over the past five years, the category has grown by just 4% in inflation-adjusted figures," said Mimi Bonnett, director of U.S. Research for Food and Drink at the market research firm Mintel.
The Rise of Alt-Milk
While the industry isn't growing, within its ranks non-dairy ice cream is playing a significant role in changing the market. Bonnett said growth has been particularly strong in recent years for the yogurt/non-dairy segment, "solidly reversing several years of declines with a double-digit (14%) year-over-year increase in 2018."
Although alt-dairy ice creams are on trend, that wasn't the case when Ben & Jerry's introduced such options just three years ago. Most of the customers were buying it for dietary reasons.
"They were vegans, they had allergies," said Nelia Horikawa, Ben & Jerry's brand manager. Now, she said, "more and more health and wellness, lifestyle, and environmental-impact choices are coming into shopper choice, and that's driving people to non-dairy and plant-based offerings...That's allowed the category to continue to grow."
Currently, Ben & Jerry's is trying to understand why consumers go back and forth between dairy and non-dairy ice cream. As the originator of cookie dough ice cream in 1984, the brand recently released a vegan version of its dough, which normally contains dairy. "I think a lot of people view non-dairy as a trend, and we're committed to the idea that it's not a trend; it's a shift in the way we consume," Horikawa said. In addition to its grocery-store sales, Ben & Jerry's has 600 scoop shops in 30 countries.
This shift to alt-dairy is especially evident among younger consumers.
"Many consumers (especially GenZ) already perceive non-dairy milks to be more nutritious and better for the environment," Bonnett said. "One of the most impactful trends in the beverage industry is consumer concerns surrounding sugar. [It's] one where non-dairy milk holds a competitive advantage over dairy (which contains naturally occurring sugars)."
But there are downsides to some alt-dairy. For example, almond milk leaves a large environmental footprint, due to the amount of water necessary to grow almonds. A more sustainable alternative is oat milk, which uses enzymes to liquefy raw oat kernels. The DIY version of the drink involves blending oats with water and dates.
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