First We Had Dippin' Dots Then We Had Fro-Yo and Rolled Ice Cream—What's the Next Era of Ice Cream Chains?

Ice cream trends come and go, here's what to expect next.

scooping vanilla ice cream
Photo: kuppa_rock/Getty Images

You know the saying: "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." The frozen treat is probably one of the only foods that can be enjoyed by all ages, in any season. It is one of those sweets that you will always make room for in your full tummy. Seriously, ice cream should be a separate food group. That's how beloved it is. We have seen every iteration and gimmick ice cream shops can think of. From shaping it into tiny balls, to rolling thin sheets. Even before social media, we were telling others about the new big ice cream craze. Let's take a trip down memory lane.

The Ice Cream Eras

The '90s

In 1988, a scientist named Curt Jones used a technique to make ice cream into tiny beads, and the rest is history... Dippin' Dots has been capturing hearts since the early '90s. It made a huge splash in amusement parks and boardwalks all over the nation. My first job was actually selling Dippin' Dots at a water park. Unfortunately, the "Ice Cream of the Future" wasn't literal because its popularity has waned in recent years. Their main outlets still include amusement parks and stadiums, but not really anywhere else.

The 2000s

Cold Stone Creamery actually has been around since the '80s too. It started the same year Dippin' Dots was invented. However, it wasn't until the early 2000s that the company expanded tremendously. By 2008, the company had over 1200 locations in 47 states. Cold Stone was everywhere, and a trip to one always garnered intense enthusiasm. Their gimmick of placing ice cream on a cold slab of granite and adding toppings like Snickers was a moment! Despite their high prices, it was definitely worth it to see your own creation being manually mixed in front of you. The craze was short-lived and many locations started closing due to tense relations between franchisees and the parent company, with rapid expansion causing overcrowding of stores geographically.

The 2010s

The 2010s started seeing the frozen yogurt (fro-yo) craze. Coming off the heels of the iconic Los Angeles-based chain, Pinkberry, many other chains started popping up everywhere, capitalizing on the trend. These chains include 16 Handles, Menchies, and Yogurtland. All of which made self-serve frozen yogurt the pinnacle of being a suburbanite. No matter how enticing the endless amounts of toppings were, and how much could fit in your cup, this phenomenon also came and went.

Then came the ultimate ice cream trend which was social media gold; rolled ice cream. This Thai treat was everywhere, I mean everywhere. You couldn't scroll through Instagram without finding a pic of someone's rolled ice cream creation. This viral trend hasn't totally gone out of style, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled its increased presence on our screens.

What the Future Holds for Ice Cream Chains

Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Animal-free food options have become the new norm nowadays across the board. Just look at the meat industry. Gone are the days when tofu was the only option. Now they have plant-based burgers that look just like the real thing. The same is happening to ice cream. Chains all over are now carrying non-dairy options, from Baskin-Robbins to Van Leeuwen. It is projected that the non-dairy ice cream market value will reach $1.2 billion by 2025. Imagine a chain with no dairy in sight. It'll be something PETA can even get on board with.

Taiyaki (Fish-Shaped Cones)

This adorable fish-shaped cone has been making its rounds on TikTok for some time. This Japanese waffle is traditionally stuffed with a sweet bean paste, but is now also being stuffed with soft serve as well. This creation has been around for over 100 years, but it could become even bigger in the future. Let's face it, any Insta-worthy food is going to be popular, but the question is will it sustain?

Popsicle Shops

Popsicles may be a nostalgic childhood moment, but a sub-zero, fruity pop can make any day a bit better. The idea of having a wide variety of popsicles, including some adult varieties made with booze and nontraditional ingredients, has been popping up more and more.

"Craft" Ice Cream

You know the saying "if it ain't broken, don't fix it." Standard ice cream shops have always been a mainstay in our lives, but many of the successful chains have adapted and evolved by incorporating new flavor combinations and ingredients, all made in-house. I like to call this the "craft movement." Just like how craft breweries and craft coffee shops have swept the nation, craft ice cream can (and has) too. The Jeni's, Van Leeuwens, Mitchell's, and Graeters of the world are all fan favorites. As a born and raised Clevelander, I stand by Mitchell's.

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