Crystal Creamery revamps its Modesto-made ice cream toward more natural ingredients

Crystal Creamery has gone back to basics at its ice cream plant in Modesto, switching out artificial ingredients for those closer to nature. Customers can find the new concoctions in pint and 48-ounce containers across all 29 flavors. The change brought only a slight increase in retail prices, said Brian Carden, the company’s senior director of sales, during a June 2 tour for the Modesto Bee. Out went monoglycerides and diglycerides, which stabilize ice cream during the initial freezing. In came stuff like guar gum, derived from guar beans, and lecithin from soybeans.

Artificial flavors and colors gave way to those extracted from natural sources, such as the annatto that gives vanilla ice cream its slightly yellow hue. “To me, it’s a better ice cream today than we had prior to making all these changes,” said Eddie Scoto, a production manager at the Kansas Avenue plant. “And we were able to remove things that people don’t like to see on the label.” The products are in hundreds of stores from Bakersfield north to the Oregon boarder. Retailers in and near Stanislaus County include O’Brien’s Market, Cost Less Foods, Walmart and Food 4 Less.

The folks at Crystal don’t claim that their ice cream is suddenly healthy. It’s still high in fat and sugar and is meant to be an occasional treat (never more so than during a pandemic). Carden said the changes followed market research that found many consumers concerned about what’s in their food. “They don’t like artificial flavors and they don’t like artificial colors,” he said. And the sweeteners no longer include high-fructose corn syrup, which has a bad reputation among some consumers. Crystal worked with its suppliers to assure that chocolate chips, fruit purees and other ingredients contained nothing artificial. And it simply removed any coloring for chocolate mint ice cream, which had been an artificial green. Now it’s white, but as minty-tasting as ever thanks to peppermint extract.

Crystal employs 968 people, about 500 of them at the Modesto complex. This site also produces fluid milk, butter, sour cream, powders and several other items. The milk arrives daily from farms in the San Joaquin Valley. The company does not disclose how much ice cream it produces or how much money it brings in, but Carden said sales are up since the changeover. Crystal also owns Humboldt Creamery, an organic operation near Eureka that has always had natural ingredients in its ice cream. The organic label also requires that the cattle feed not be grown with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, among other things.

Crystal is owned by the Foster family of Modesto, which also has the separate Foster Farms poultry operation. Poultry launched in 1939, dairy two years later. The Crystal label dates to the 1901 founding of Crystal Cream and Butter Co. in Sacramento. The Foster family purchased in it 2007 and later adopted the brand for all of its dairy products. “Crystal Creamery has been a local favorite for over a century, and we are excited to take our great tasting ice cream to the next level,” said Carolina Hoyos, senior marketing manager, in a news release.

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