What happened to neopolitan?
October 29, 2012 12:30 AM   Subscribe

Why is neopolitan ice cream no longer popular in the US?

It used to be that every grocery store would carry at least one brand of neopolitan ice cream. I can remember it being this way up until some time in the nineties. Now it seems the flavor has gone out of style, and a lot of places (most?) don't carry it. I know it must boil down to less demand for the product. Assuming that's true, why did demand for it decrease?
posted by ErikH2000 to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I haven't looked for or noticed the absence of neapolitan ice cream, but I have a guess. With all the so-called super premium ice creams out there in all kinds of wacky flavors (Ben&Jerry's, Haagen Dazs, etc), neapolitan ends up seeming rather old-fashioned in comparison. I bet it's simply that demand has fallen.
posted by The Potate at 12:43 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always hated Neopolitan. I don't want chocolate on/with/by my strawberry.

I think The Potate is right, but I think the introduction of these premium brands also brought about smaller containers. As a kid, I don't remember ice cream coming in small containers that are popular with today's premium brands. I only remember half gallon or larger, not the boutique-ish pints that are common today.
posted by shoesietart at 12:54 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's funny because my Grandpa (turning 96 in December) loves Neopolitan. He always wants it. Guess it's just one of those things that simply goes out of style? Like clothes or music? It's odd how flavors come into and out of fashion. Just like names for people go in and out.
posted by christiehawk at 1:06 AM on October 29, 2012


Yeah I think Neapolitan icecream made more commercial sense when it was a way to turn basic icecream flavours into something a bit more interesting, and now there are all sorts of flavour combinations available.

Plus, I am reminded of Homer Simpson opening Neapolitan icecream containers containing just vanilla and strawberry. "Mmm, chocolate.. Doh!" I bet a lot of people have preferences for one of those flavours and so it's easier to just get a single flavour.
posted by lwb at 1:10 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think people are getting used to the quality of premium ice creams, in terms of taste and texture. I don't eat ice cream all that often, but when I do I am so disappointed when it is a lesser quality product. Neopolitan dorsn't seem to be offered by premium brands, maybe that is one reason it is less popular.
posted by vignettist at 1:54 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am not in the US, so can't comment directly on the question, but I recognize the same trend here in Denmark, and so will answer from that. I can remember Neapolitan ice cream being huge in the 90's, but hardly see it here anymore, either.

Like the other posters, I think that it is true that the quality of the ice cream we eat has gone up, and the pint size has become more popular. I personally love the flavor combination of Neapolitan ice cream, but I don't buy it because the only brands that make it are the super cheap, bad quality ice cream brands. Actually, when I buy a container of ice cream from an ice cream store where I get to pick the flavors myself, I have on more than one occasion created my "own" Neapolitan ice box of high quality ice cream.

What I'm getting at is, I think that if a higher quality of the style was made, I think it would be popular and people would buy it.
posted by coraline at 3:04 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is also a packaging / marketing issue. Good ice cream = scooped; bad ice cream = sliced. Here at least, Neapolitan comes in boxes and really is made from super cheap, bad quality ice cream.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:36 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


In addition to the cheap vs. premium ice cream issue, I think the relative unpopularity of strawberry ice cream has a lot to do with it. Chocolate and chocolate-compatible flavors (e.g. caramel, coffee, peanut butter, Oreo) are hugely popular in both ice cream and ice cream toppings, and strawberry doesn't quite go with a lot of those. And a lot of people probably remember low-quality strawberry ice cream with its painfully icy lumps of berry.

I think the increase in chocolate popularity might be responsible for the lessened popularity of butter pecan ice cream, too. I remember butter pecan being a staple flavor when I was a kid, but now I hardly ever see it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 AM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can still get Neapolitan at any grocery store around my house in the DC suburbs, although as stated above, it is generally a cheaper lower quality brand.
posted by COD at 5:51 AM on October 29, 2012


I think Metroid Baby has it. If one of the premium brands starts selling Really, Really Good strawberry ice cream in five or ten years, we'll all be like "Oh shit, why did I used to hate this stuff?" But for the time being, we all still remember hating it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:45 AM on October 29, 2012


It is an age thing, I think, because my older relatives love Neapolitan. Though still available, I see it on the lower end of the scale section. It is fun for kids at parties and I see it there too.
posted by jadepearl at 6:51 AM on October 29, 2012


[A couple of comments deleted. Ice cream is fun to talk about, I know! But we need to be actually answering the question here. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:54 AM on October 29, 2012


I love Neapolitan and I'm a young person. In Texas, Blue Bell makes it and I've never had any problem finding it, and I believe Breyers or Dreyers makes it, too -- neither one of those are "economy" brands. Blue Bell even makes it in the little pint containers. Thank goodness.

Neapolitan: all the joy of ice cream without having to make a decision.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:59 AM on October 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


My guess would be that it's more profitable if Neapolitanists are forced to buy vanilla, chocolate and strawberry separately, but that's not much more than a guess.
posted by tel3path at 7:16 AM on October 29, 2012


Also, fancy ice cream parlors around 1990 were doing mix-ins - you'd pick a base flavor and various additions, and watch as they plopped the ice cream on a slab and mashed it all up with the toppings. Neapolitan wouldn't fit well in that scheme, which probably contributed to its going out of favor in premium brands.
posted by expialidocious at 7:19 AM on October 29, 2012


If they made a Super Duper Neopolitan with a lot of stuff mixed in, I bet it would make a comeback. Like, stawberries in the strawberry section, chocolate fudge in the chocolate section...
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:26 AM on October 29, 2012


I often buy Neapolitan, and Breyers makes it, which I love because they're one of the few basic brands that makes at least some flavors with the minimum ingredients. However, within the past few years I've also noticed that they've come out with just a chocolate + vanilla combination carton, so my guess is that perhaps the strawberry just isn't as popular as it used to be. It's also a possibility that we maybe just buy more sweets nowadays, so it's not as big of a deal to buy a couple of cartons vs. having to satisfy several family members with one.
posted by bizzyb at 7:26 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think there may be a regional aspect to this. I'm in "flyover country" and Neapolitan is never hard to find, though certainly not dominant. There's even a good-quality version, though certainly not premium.

It's also a possibility that we maybe just buy more sweets nowadays, so it's not as big of a deal to buy a couple of cartons vs. having to satisfy several family members with one.

Yeah, I bet increasing freezer capacities have had an impact.

Tangentially-related advice: never buy "low-fat low-sugar" Neapolitan. In my experience the chocolate bloc is rock-hard and only capable of being extricated if you use a knife, which leads to an inversion of the Simpson Family Neapolitan Consumption Pattern whereby vanilla and strawberry are the first to go.
posted by AugieAugustus at 7:48 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gresham's Law, I suppose.

Thing 1: I always associated Neapolitan with low-quality, store brand ice cream. And like many people, I did not like all three flavours involved, so every Neapolitan that has ever been in my control has passed out of my control with the strawberry still intact. Some of it was probably tossed. I can't be the only one who associates it with words like "mediocre" and "unappetizing."

Thing 2: There is a limited amount of freezer space devoted to ice cream. Twenty or thirty years ago (at least where I grew up on the Great Lakes), there were a half-dozen flavours from two or three dairies. Now you have all sorts of specialized flavours and premium brands, so Neapolitan may have fallen off the lower end of grocers' ordering lists.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are lots of reasons.

- Ice cream used to be far more for kids than adults. With Neopolitan ice cream, you didn't need to ask a kid if they liked strawberry, vanilla or chocolate better. They got all three. Bonus. Now, starting really with Haagen-Dazs, ice cream became something for adults. The game changed.

- Bear in mind that having a large freezer was a luxury up until 30 or so years ago. Both in terms of cost of the thing and to some degree space. So having one go-to tub of ice cream was a bonus. But we can have more than one tub of ice cream in our freezers with ease. And choose the flavors we want.

- The name "Neopolitan" had echoes of Italian quality. The idea of domestic style ice cream being as good or better is only about 25 years old as an idea. We used to eat of a lot of Neopolitan in the UK too. And a "posh" ice cream dessert called Viennetta. The growth of premium ice creams - notably Haagen-Dazs, but also brands like Ben and Jerry's dealt a blow to the idea that Italian = quality when it came to ice cream (although that is being addressed with the revival of fondness for traditional gelato, but still largely holds for retail brands).

- Over and above that people's tastes evolve, and this has been supported by a fall in the cost of food relative to income, driven by improvements in mass farming, food manufacturing as well as the growth of large supermarkets and hypermarkets. We used to more frozen meat. The frozen pizzas we bought were nowhere near as good as the fresh ones we can get now. We cook more with olive oil - or virgin olive oil - huge luxuries within our lifetimes. So we expect better quality.

- Above all, the flavors themselves don't really work together. People don't often put chocolate things on strawberries. Strawberry and vanilla works, chocolate and vanilla works, chocolate and strawberry can work, but all three doesn't work especially well as a combination. Which is a big reason why it hasn't made more of a comeback as a retro ice cream.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:19 AM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the ubiquity of artificial strawberry flavor (ethyl methylphenylglycidate), which has a not very subtly off taste, has turned people away from strawberry flavored anything, including strawberrys themselves.
posted by jamjam at 8:36 AM on October 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


People don't often put chocolate things on strawberries. Strawberry and vanilla works, chocolate and vanilla works, chocolate and strawberry can work, but all three doesn't work especially well as a combination.

As a former and probably future pastry cook, I can assure you: chocolate-covered strawberries are a BIG DEAL.

I actually think this is one of the best things about Neapolitan. All three flavors work well together.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:20 AM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Definitely all of what MuffinMan and others who commented on the rise of luxury ice creams said.

When I was a kid, back in the Stone Age, you really only got to taste varieties of ice cream if you could get to a Baskin-Robbins. In stores, there were about five or six flavors of ice cream available and that was it. Chocolate, vanilla, Neapolitan (which Mom hated so we never bought it), maybe Rocky Road and "mocha" and a couple of kinds of sherbet.

Now every grocery store near me - not just the upscale Whole Foods types - carries pumpkin flavor (at Trader Joe's, and it is yummy), salted caramel swirl, bananas Foster, coffee (which tastes like real coffee, not a plasticky fake-mocha) and so forth and so on. Why buy three flavors that don't mix well and that the pink strawberry makes look really yucky when melted?

BTW, I do put chocolate on strawberries all the time and find it tastes terrific. But that's real chocolate, and real strawberries, not low-quality and/or artificial flavors. Jamjam is right on the money on this one - the fake strawberry flavor in low-quality ice cream is horrid. So is the blandness of the fake vanilla (I never liked vanilla ice cream until I had the good stuff) and the wimpy milk chocolate. Cheap grocery-store ice cream just isn't that good in general.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:23 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I love Neapolitan and don't have any trouble finding it. I usually get the Breyer's one, it's all natural and pretty tasty. I'd enjoy a more premium version — Ice cream marketers skimming AskMe, make it so!
posted by klangklangston at 9:40 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ben & Jerry's had a limited edition flavor back in the mid-'90s called Cool Britannia (vanilla + strawberries + chocolate-covered cookies), which was marketed as a kind of updated, Britpop-inspired take on Neapolitan (implying that regular Neapolitan was obviously old-fashioned and uncool).
posted by scody at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2012


That strawberries and chocolate don't go together seems misguided.
posted by GPF at 11:19 AM on October 29, 2012


nthing Metroid Baby; the US ice-cream market in particular is all about 947 variations along the chococaracoffeenut axis.
posted by holgate at 12:03 PM on October 29, 2012


Neopolitan dorsn't seem to be offered by premium brands, maybe that is one reason it is less popular.

Maybe it's not a "premium" brand, but there's nothing wrong with the quality of Breyer's ice cream. The ingredients in the neapolitan are : MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES, WHEY, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), TARA GUM, NATURAL FLAVOR.

They officially call it "Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry" though- I guess people today aren't expected to recognize neapolitan.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:34 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember as a kid I didn't like it when we had Neapolitan, pretty much for the Simpsons reason. The chocolate would run out first, then the vanilla and finally the strawberry. Unlike Homer, we wouldn't get a fresh box of ice cream until we finished the last one. I haven't noticed a decrease in Neapolitan availability, but that's largely because I never check for Neapolitan.

(As an aside, I did accidentally buy a "triple vanilla" tub without looking closely, which was a Neapolitan-like combination of regular vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean. I am not sure that is a combination that anybody needs.)
posted by ckape at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2012


As an aside, I did accidentally buy a "triple vanilla" tub without looking closely, which was a Neapolitan-like combination of regular vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean. I am not sure that is a combination that anybody needs.)

See I think that is further proof of the premiumizaton theory. I am way more interested in three different delicious variations on one flavor — if well made — than the mediocre mish-mash that Neapolitan conjures.
posted by dame at 5:18 PM on October 29, 2012


A secret choice on the menu at In'n'Out Burger is the neopolitan milk shake. The only time I've ever tried one, it was so delicious I couldn't stop drinking until it was gone, which gave me an ice cream headache. Of course, YMMV.
posted by Rash at 7:48 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


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