BOSTON — Amid the pandemic, while many Americans in lockdown began baking sourdough and banana bread, Shelly Marshall pondered the potential of powdered ice cream mix as a shortcut for churning homemade batches.
A couple years earlier she had opened a Caribbean-themed ice cream shop in New York, serving scoops of guava cheesecake, soursop and sea moss sorbet. At home, while the virus raged throughout the city, she tediously heated and whisked milk and eggs on the stovetop to produce ice cream for her children.
“I was like, ‘No one came up with a Duncan Hines type of product that you could just dump in a bowl with some milk and mix it up with your hand or a spoon or something?’” she recalled. “I looked at what’s in Häagen-Dazs. It’s cream, milk, eggs, sugar, flavor. Five ingredients. I thought, how can I get the powdered format of these five ingredients and recreate ice cream as a dry shelf-stable kind of thing?”
As Marshall began developing the concept, she tapped a friend in Cambridge, Mass., for formulation advice. Kelly Williamson, whom she had met several years before while attending the ice cream short course at Pennsylvania State University, had for five years operated her own packaged ice cream startup and had since sworn off the sweet treat business.
But Marshall offered a proposition: Would she be the Ben to her Jerry?
“I thought she was nuts,” said Williamson, who has held various stints in marketing and project management, most recently at online home goods retailer Wayfair. “When Shelly approached me with the idea of ice cream mix, I agreed to do some free recipe testing just for kicks, to scratch that old ice cream itch.
“And then there was more momentum behind it. She was getting some great feedback from mentors, and there was a lot of promise behind the idea of a powdered ice cream mix. … I wasn’t happy where I was in my corporate career, and I said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do this together.’”
Months later, True Scoops debuted. Initially the product was packaged in pouches to be prepared in a blender or ice cream machine. Earlier this year, the pair unveiled a reformulated iteration, packaged in pints, that may be combined with one cup of half-and-half using common kitchen equipment.
True Scoops’ ice cream mixes contain sugar, dehydrated sweet cream, organic tapioca syrup solids, nonfat dry milk, potato protein and organic gums. Flavors include strawberry, vanilla and chocolate.
“If you think about any Ben & Jerry’s flavor, they’re chocolate, vanilla or strawberry bases, then they’ve added chocolate coated peanuts or raisins or whatever,” Marshall said. “You can make any flavor from our three bases and really be creative. That’s why the front of the pint says, ‘The name of this flavor is…’ and you can write it in.”
The startup also sells a pair of dry sauce mixes in salted butterscotch and hot fudge flavors. Future product development may tap into growing demand for low- or no-sugar desserts.
The products are available online at the brand’s website and through Amazon, as well as in Central Market stores and a smattering of specialty shops. The founders are planning a slow retail rollout while gaining online traction.
“We need to build up a stronger brand identity before we get in store because it’s a new category,” Marshall said. “We’re not selling another granola bar. Who are people going to compare us to? So, we’re doing the legwork, first direct-to-consumer on Amazon, driving trial there, before we go in store. Because once we’re in store, we need people to know True Scoops and ice cream mix exist.”
True Scoops may be merchandised in a number of areas throughout a grocery store, alongside ice cream toppings and cones, near cartons of half-and-half in the dairy case, or among packaged cake and brownie mixes in the baking aisle, which Marshall argued should be renamed “the maker’s aisle.”
“We don’t know until we go into the store and test,” she said. “That’s why the first two years in retail will be the most pivotal for us, because we’ll be testing price, we’ll be testing placement throughout the store. We could be merchandised anywhere except the freezer.”
The “blessing and the curse of True Scoops,” Williamson said, is the novelty of the product, a Betty Crocker-meets-Ben & Jerry’s innovation.
“We have so much convincing and educating to do, but at the same time people are blown away by the concept,” she said. “They’re so excited about something new in ice cream, that they can make it. The taste and texture are a 10 out of 10. We’ve been getting great feedback on it. People love that it’s functional packaging. It’s a real win. We’re just waiting for that real aha moment where it’s going to take off.”