Vanilla Beats Out Fancy Ice Cream Flavors

A stroll down your grocer's ice cream section can turn into an all-day dilemma. With flavors ranging from strawberry cheesecake to ginger blossom, the decision can be mind-boggling.

But after much thought, Americans have picked their pint of choice: vanilla.

In an age where chocolate almond is considered passé, it seems unlikely that vanilla would remain top of the class. But the numbers don't lie. According to the International Ice Cream Association, vanilla takes top honors with a 29 percent preference rating. Chocolate is a distant second accounting for only 8 percent preference rating.

Even Baskin-Robbins, a company known for its choices, watched 30 flavors collect freezer burn last year as vanilla raked in over 25 percent of its sales.

Cristina Holder, marketing manager for Hershey's Ice Cream, feels that exotic flavors, such as basil and key lime pie, will never be able to knock queen vanilla off her throne.

"Those types of flavors are your one-time eats," Holder said. "Most of the time people won't finish the carton of it. They just want the novelty of it. When it comes down to it, people want a scoop of vanilla with their birthday cake or on top of their pie."

Nadine Shmoyer, co-owner of Ice Cream World, agrees that the big players don't have any competition from their flavorful counterparts.

Shmoyer has seen the rise and fall of many a flavor. "I thought the chocolate-covered cherry would sell great guns and it didn't," she said.

And research shows that despite its plain reputation, vanilla is anything but boring. At the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, Mich., a study of 18,631 people showed that vanilla lovers were lively, energetic and fun-loving.

"I would have thought vanilla is a bland personality," said Alan Hirsch whose study has also found that butter pecan lovers are perfectionists.

But even with its booming popularity, no two vanilla cones are created equal. The "super-premium" ice cream industry offers customers a higher quality product at a higher price.

"Superpremium and premium are higher in fat, denser, richer, just a more indulgent ice cream," said Dave Landau of the International Dairy Food Association. "I think Americans like to indulge. The fat-free ice cream doesn't fit the bill."

Rick Merkow, of Merkow Wholesale Distributor, Inc., agrees that people are cutting fat elsewhere so they can enjoy their ice cream. "The Rocky Road inventor would turn over in his grave at the thought of it being low fat," he sighed jokingly.

At Crème Cremallere, in Bedford, N.Y., owner Bobbie Meyzen specializes in indulgent French custard-style ice cream. Even though her roster of flavors boasts such delicacies as crème brulée and Swiss almond, it's the creamy vanilla that is the highest seller. Meyzen attributes its popularity to the fact it's "something traditional with an elegant flair."

So even though ice cream shops are pushing flavors like saffron pistachio, garlic and Hawaiian ginger, rest assured vanilla will always be there.