Save the Bowl

Back in the 1980’s, Hollywood produced an awful movie called “The Stuff”.  The story began with a couple of miners discovering a pasty-white goo pouring forth from the earth.  Giving it a taste, they realized it was not only edible, but the more you ate the more you seemed to want.  So, they package the goo, brand it “The Stuff”, and begin selling cartons to the masses.  Turns out – besides tasting good – “The Stuff” melts your brain, turns you into a zombie, and leaves you with nothing but an insatiable appetite for more.  That’s the entire comedy-horror plot, save for an FBI agent and a teen trying desperately to rescue the planet.  “The Stuff” was like a light/airy “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: no taste and little substance.

Even a “distasteful” movie can be a prophecy, however.  Maybe you’re craving “The Stuff” after reading that paragraph.  Guess what?  It just may exist, disguised as the pint-sized “ice cream” products from Halo Top, Arctic Zero, Enlightened, and others.  All available this very minute at your local grocery store!  What are you waiting for?

Halo Top (HT) is – in one aspect – the dream dessert.  Halo Top is a full pint of ice cream (per the label – four servings), engineered to be consumed straight from the container in one sitting, but with none of the guilt/gluttony associated with full-fat competitors.  HT can’t hide its pride – the biggest lettering on the container is the calories (just 280 for the whole pint; 25% of Ben & Jerry’s), while elsewhere the packaging promotes immediate and total consumption with slogans like “save the bowl” and “stop when you hit the bottom”.

On the other hand, Halo Top is not dream-tasty.  Some describe HT as “shaved ice” while others say it leaves a chalky aftertaste (hello, stevia).  The chocolate-chip cookie dough has very little “dough”, and the cookies-and-cream has no cookies.  Every review I found recommends time at room temperature to achieve a more ice-cream-like consistency.  On a recent visit to the grocery store, I “hefted” one of these pints.  It was hard as a rock, yet somehow so light/airy it felt like a little helium balloon, ready to ascend from my grasp.

Here’s the real wonder to me: none of the above gotchas stop consumers from filling their baskets with Halo Top pints.  Last year’s sales were over $350 million, a 500% increase from the previous year.  In the same time, “regular” ice cream sales increased less than 10%.  As one consumer declares, it’s a brave new world of ice cream – quantity over quality.

What I find most disturbing about Halo Top and its peers is the manufacturer’s intent.  They’re effectively encouraging you to clean your plate by design.  Four servings make more sense than one because you should eat the whole pint.  Whether you’ve already quenched your appetite is irrelevant; it’s about getting to the bottom of the container.  Arctic Zero claims “…our love of ice cream runs deep, like eat-the-entire-pint-deep.”  Enlightened even offers how-often guidelines.  In their website FAQ’s, we’re told ice cream is not just for dessert: “Not at all! Low in calories, fat, and sugar, and packed with protein and fiber, Enlightened Ice Cream is truly good for you. It can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner… or anytime in between!”

Let’s translate the “more is better” concept to the movie theater.  If we drop the guilt factor from junk-food concessions, we could sell popcorn in containers the size of trash cans.  Soda could be hosed to each theater seat for hours of non-stop slurping (restroom logistics aside).  String licorice could be coiled on floor-mounted reels.  M&M’s could be the size of hamburgers.

We’ve just about come full-circle here.  If all of us binge on Halo Top, honing our full-container consumption habits for breakfast lunch, dinner, “and anytime in between”, haven’t we created a modern-day version of “The Stuff”?  All that’s missing is the magic ingredient in Starbucks and Chinese food that triggers “I want more”.  As for me, I’ve never tried any of the products I’ve talked about today, nor do I intend to.  I’d rather not become a zombie.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop…“.