Investing in ice cream: The dividends are delicious

July 05, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I PANICKED WHEN I learned that the price of ice cream is going up this summer. The news stories I read cited several reasons for the increase, including El Nino.

It seems that the rains of El Nino have had an unsettling effect on the cows of California. Apparently, these dairy cows didn't like their muddy working conditions and produced less milk this year. The drop in production, coupled with a worldwide increase in demand for butterfat -- a major ingredient in many of my favorite foods, including ice cream -- have pushed up the price of cool pleasure.

What really got my attention was a story in the Wall Street Journal saying Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. was going to raise prices.

After I read that, I dropped the paper and hurried to the grocery store to stockpile ice cream. My idea was to stock up on ice cream and horde it as the price goes up. It was my ice-cream savings plan, a high-fat 401(k).

As I stood in the ice cream aisle of the grocery store, I considered my investment options.

In the end, I decided to commit some capital -- $2.99, to be exact -- to Ben and Jerry.

Over the years, I have developed a relationship with these guys. I even visited their plant in Vermont. There was also the nostalgia factor. These guys had been two free spirits in the 1960s who started their ice cream company in a former gas station and who, four years ago, searched for a chief executive officer by running an essay contest titled "Yo, I'm Your C.E.O."

Since then, the company has gone through a couple of CEOs, and Ben and Jerry have ceded control of the company to "the suits." To this I said: They may have become money-grubbing capitalists, but they still make a great Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. That is why I bought a pint. I also invested in some Breyers vanilla (a half gallon for $4.59), a flavor I regard as the basic blue chip of ice cream stock.

When I got my investments home, I put them in the freezer for supposed safe keeping. Within a few hours, however, my savings were eroding.

I had put a serious dent into the supply of Heath Bar Crunch, and our eldest teen-ager was dipping into the supply of Breyers vanilla. As chief architect and trustee of the family's ice cream savings program, I felt entitled to raid the treasury any time I wanted to. And I couldn't blame the teen-ager for attacking the vanilla, because he was using it to make his signature dish, a milkshake.

The kid had picked up this milkshake-making habit a few years ago. He insists on Breyers vanilla ice cream and adds an occasional splash of whipping cream with the milk. He blends these ingredients in our Hobart mixer and downs the milkshake as a nightcap.

He has also begun comparing his milkshakes with those he tastes at spots around Baltimore. The thick milkshakes at Bairs general store in Taneytown, for instance, rate highly with him, while the ones served at Baltimore's Hard Rock Cafe are, in his view, weak and watery.

From time to time, I give him tips. Recently, for instance, I told the kid of the excellent $2.25 vanilla milkshake made with Hershey's ice cream I had found at Ritzmann's Country Store in northern Baltimore County. The kid immediately wanted to know how to get there. I told him to go north of Baltimore on Interstate 83, take the Mount Carmel Road exit, turn left and travel about one mile on Mount Carmel road; the store is on the right.

I told him to hurry, to get there before El Nino and discontented cows push up the price of joy.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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