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Food Packaging: The 56 oz. ice cream carton: Will it float?

Ice cream is supposed to elicit screams, but some flat notes have crept in lately.

Mayfield Dairy took some lumps for its 56 oz. Selects package, but the processor was only following a growing ice cream packaging trend.
Scotty Mayfield knew some negative feedback might result when he announced in January that Mayfield Select ice cream would switch to a downsized version of its half-gallon carton. “Nobody is in favor of getting less and being charged the same,” the president of Athens, Tenn.-based Mayfield Dairy Farms notes. Still, the tempest swamped the teacup.

“Some ice cream buyers get short end of scoop,” read the headline in the Feb. 6 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. One industry wag termed the move “sneaky” because the new package doesn’t proclaim, “Now, 20% less.” In fact, the switch to a 56 oz. carton represents a 12.5% volume reduction, but the point was made.

Mayfield Select’s package reflects two trends: smaller sizes for premium ice creams, and a shift toward the so-called scround, a hybrid between a square and a round ice cream carton.

Other regional brands are following Mayfield’s lead, including Smith Dairy Products Co., which rolled out a 56 oz. version of its Ruggles premium line in March. Both Smith and Mayfield are following a trend that began in 2000. Unilever’s Good Humor-Breyer’s division introduced Ice Cream Partners line in 56 oz. scrounds that year, while Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc. rolled out Dreyer’s Parlor in 48 oz. oval packages. More recently, Dreyer’s switched to 56 oz. containers. They are among the first dairies to take advantage of the lifting of federal regulations that prohibited packaging ice cream in units inconsistent with English volume measures.

Keeping the price of Mayfield Select below $5 was one reason for Mayfield’s switch. Another was recognition of America’s shrinking household sizes. About half the consumers in Mayfield focus groups said they toss out the last couple of scoops in a half-gallon anyway, so the eight missing ounces would hardly be missed.

Downsized packaging is nothing new: coffee companies introduced the 13 oz. pound years ago, and candy bars and bleach are among the many products that have converted to more diminutive sizes. Despite the downsizing furor, Mayfield expects to sell the same number of 56 oz. units this year as it sold 64 oz. cartons last year.

The dairyman is sanguine about the newspaper flap. “We wish they would have given us credit for being forthright, but it’s not that bad of an article,” he says. On the upside, Mayfield appeared in news reports on TV stations throughout his distribution area. Any pub, as they say, is good pub.

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