What’s On Top?

Crunchy Softserve toppings

The Soft Serve Ice Cream Industry

Soft-serve ice cream has come a long way from its original vanilla, chocolate, or vanilla-chocolate swirl days. As a child, it was a real treat going to my local soft serve shop. I would order a vanilla and chocolate swirl in a sugar cone every time, without fail. I liked the even strokes of soft serve layers and how the vanilla and chocolate would sit in harmony. Soft serve options have come a long way in the past twenty years. Though the tastes of chocolate and vanilla flavorings, swirled or stand-alone, remain popular flavor options today, in comparison to current soft serve orders, I now realize the local shop I frequented for the go-to order of my sweet childhood was missing one extremely important component—toppings.

I remember the day they closed down, and shortly after, noticing multiple soft serve chains and individual shops popping up. The new concepts these dessert stops offered were mind blowing. They were self-serve establishments with fully stocked toppings bars. These stores allowed the consumer to decide the flavor and texture combinations that would fit each unique taste palate: sweet and fruity; tart and sour; chewy and crunchy; or soft and crispy. The possibilities were endless.

With the addition of toppings, your simple single-flavor—or my case, two flavors of soft serve—is paired with an element that immediately upgrades the entire experience. Today, almost every soft serve establishment presents widely popular topping selections including candy pieces, cookies, fruit, cereal, nuts, and syrups. But the options don’t have to stop there.

Small business owners are challenging what we define as dessert. Toppings include a much broader group of ingredients. What most would consider a snack can now be found as a topping for soft serve. Ever considered potato chips or tortilla chips staggered on top of your soft serve? Turkey and the Wolf in New Orleans has a distinguished dessert section with “savory snack foods” on vanilla soft serve. Or how about a magic shell and tater sticks Frosty® style on top of a soft-serve cone?

The new topping additions have created fresh sensations of flavor combinations that very few have ever tried before. Snack or savory topping selections are steadily swirling into the soft serve industry. Only time can tell just how far this trend will go, but we don’t seem to be far off from innovative flavor creations like the kind showcased in the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Though, his three-course chewing gum meal of tomato soup, roast beef and baked potato, and blueberry pie is where our soft serve toppings meet their match.

Snacking in general has come to replace meals among today’s consumer. As a meal replacer, soft serve with savory toppings sounds quite possible. And in the great words of Willy Wonka, “There is no life I know to compare to pure imagination.” Whether the choices are chocolate pieces, fruit, chips, or tots, soft serve toppings innovation is the customer expectation to meet.