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Dean Foods Relaunches Steve’s in Its First Artisanal Ice Cream Play

Carol Ortenberg

Although many credit Steve’s Ice Cream for kicking off the super-premium ice cream movement back in the 1970s, the brand has struggled to capitalize on its first-mover status in the years since. Over decades, the company changed hands numerous times, before ultimately declaring bankruptcy in 2017.

But now Steve’s is rising up yet again. Dairy giant Dean Foods, the producer of mainstream ice cream brands Friendly’s and Mayfield Creamery, acquired the brand for a reported $1 million and is now relaunching the brand as it attempts to enter the artisanal ice cream space.

The relaunch of Steve’s is part of Dean’s strategy to diversify its portfolio beyond fluid milk, sales of which are down close to 40 percent over the last decade. Simultaneously, Dean has tried to appeal to more millennial shoppers, picking up other brands in addition to Steve’s such as Uncle Matt’s Organic and Good Karma.

Mark Schneider, marketing director for Dean’s ice cream division, told NOSH that Dean was looking to expand its ice cream portfolio — particularly into the super-premium set — when the opportunity with Steve’s emerged. The past years have seen rapid growth in the ice cream category, with brands such as Coolhaus, Van Leewen and Jeni’s attracting more consumers (and investors) with their unique flavor offerings.

Schneider told NOSH that Dean is aware that the needs of ice cream consumers have evolved and wanted to own a brand that could compete with its more spunky competition.

“[With Steve’s] we’re entering a more premium, crafted segment, allowing us to reach artfully-minded millennial consumers who are looking for distinctive, indulgent, artisanal ice cream experiences,” Schneider said. “We saw a brand with [a] rich history, a lineup of outstanding products, and a loyal group of fans that we could continue to grow.”

Although Steve’s never fully left the marketplace since its acquisition, Schneider said Dean used the time to develop a “genuine, authentic and forward looking” course of action, and learn more about the super-premium ice cream consumer. The new pints can be found in Albertsons/Safeway divisions, Ahold locations, Target, Harris-Teeter and Wegmans. Each pint will retail for $4.99 to $5.99.

For the rebrand, Schneider and his team designed a brand identity that they hope will stand out in a sea of pint packaging that emphasizes bold colors and clever logos. Rather than partner with a larger agency, Schneider brought on Seattle artist and designer Drew Wicklund to craft hand-drawn background images and “distinctive front panel iconography,” Schneider said.

To match the bold packaging, the Dean team created an array of non-traditional, globally-inspired flavors such as Spearmint Chocolate Brownie, Sicilan Chocolate Cannoli, Moroccan Mashup (coconut cream with orange blossom, pomegranate and almonds) and Cold-Brewed Cinnamon Coffee to compliment Steve’s existing regionally-inspired flavors such as southern banana pudding and Brooklyn blackout cake. The line will continue to have both dairy and plant-based offerings, the latter with a coconut cream base.

In recent years, category leaders in the ice cream set have either offered shoppers very low calorie, functional offerings or indulgent, experiential options. Schneider told NOSH that Dean quickly decided Steve’s should remain true to its roots and aim for the latter.

“We wanted to stay true to the brand’s crafted personality of creating truly decadent and unique flavors,” Schneider told NOSH. “We know ice cream is a crowded category and believe by delivering upon our mission to always share indulgent and unexpected creations with our fans, they’ll remain Steve’s loyalists.”

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