Why Is No One Eating This Ice Cream Flavor Anymore?

Chocolate chip ice cream is reportedly going extinct.

If pressed, could you name the top-selling ice cream flavors in the United States? Though we are living in a golden age of bizarre varieties, from ranch dressing to everything bagel, Americans' purchasing habits demonstrate that we prefer the simpler stuff most of the time: According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the most popular ice cream flavors include chocolate, vanilla, and cookies 'n cream. Yet the New York Times reports that one classic American flavor has been falling out of favor for years, and now sits outside the top 10 entirely. What's happening to vanilla chocolate chip?

The NYT explains that this once ubiquitous combination of vanilla ice cream and chocolate chips has slid sow far down in the rankings that many creameries and dairy plants now treat it as a seasonal item, only selling it during the summer months (peak ice cream season, of course). In a 2022 survey by the IDFA and Research America, the top 10 flavors among U.S. consumers were as follows:

1. Cookies 'n Cream2. Vanilla3. Chocolate4. Mint Chocolate Chip5. Strawberry6. Butter Pecan7. Coffee8. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough9. Caramel/Salted Caramel10. Cookie Dough

Rounding out the top 15 are these stragglers: Birthday Cake/Cake Batter, Moose Tracks, Vanilla & Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, and Rocky Road. At 14th place, it's no wonder that chocolate chip ice cream can't always be found at the nearest supermarket. In 2024, there are far more store-bought ice cream options than there were in prior decades, and with only so much freezer space to hold them all, dairy producers have to start making cuts.

National manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries told the NYT that vanilla chocolate chip was once a core offering in its lineup, but only until the early 2000s, after which it was deprioritized to accommodate flavors better suited to Americans' evolving tastes.That's a big part of what's happening here, by the way: our preferences evolve with the times, and that's as true for ice cream as it is for any other food. (Remember when sun dried tomatoes were on everything and none of us could get enough gastropub flatbread pizza?)

Anecdotally, I don't remember the ninth-place ice cream flavor, salted caramel, being "a thing" when I was a kid; the notion of sweet-and-savory desserts exploded sometime in the early 21st century and hasn't let up since. As our palates expand to accept ice cream options as wild as a whole damn Thanksgiving dinner, it's hardly surprising that we would abandon something like chocolate chip, whose shards of chocolate often lose their flavor at subzero temperatures and become texturally tiresome to chew on.

In the 2022 IDFA survey, 58% of consumers reported purchasing "premium" ice cream, compared to only 24% of consumers purchasing "regular" ice cream. These are, in fact, technical terms in the dairy world, and premium ice cream allows for less overrun—that is, the amount of air churned into a batch. Regular ice cream has a lot more overrun, so it lacks the rich, butterfat-forward texture and flavor of the premium pints. (This is why Ben & Jerry's tastes better than, say, Breyers.)

As the industry shifts its focus toward more premium ice cream, it's only natural that our palates will likewise demand more intense flavors and inventive mix-ins, and the makers of these products will continue to develop more attention-grabbing marketing strategies to stand out from the crowd. Amidst this bold new world of dairy innovation, it was perhaps inevitable that the humble vanilla chocolate chip scoop would be left in the dust. 

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