July 19, 2010 -- Jane Martz, a single mom living in Long Valley, New Jersey, took her three children to their local Baskin-Robbins Sunday night. As she savored a scoop of Caramel Praline Cheesecake, she realized it might be the last time she could get it.
Baskin-Robbins turned 65 and announced that it would retire -- five flavors of ice cream that is: It's sending Caramel Praline Cheesecake, Campfire S'mores, Apple Pie a La Mode, Superfudge Truffle and French Vanilla to the "deep freeze." It's the first time the company has ever retired five flavors at once.
Facebook Buzzing With Discontent
The decision to retire a classic like French Vanilla has the Facebook world buzzing. One page called "Save Baskin-Robbins' French Vanilla From the Deep Freeze" has more than 1,000 supporters.
Martz is one of them. For her, Baskin-Robbins is a fond memory of her childhood.
"I remember being a child, walking to the Baskin-Robbins after school with my sister Laura, and we would get ice cream and walk home," Martz said. "It's a comfort food, but now it seems like before you know it, they're going to disappear."
Rhonda Culver from Phoenix Arizona suspected something was amiss. The last time she went to Baskin-Robbins there was no French Vanilla.
"Oh no! I thought there might be something going on," Culver said.
She's been ordering French Vanilla cones since she was a kid to cool off from the hot Arizona heat.
Milford Muskett from Seattle was disappointed when he heard about the reitring of French Vanilla.
Muskett, 43, grew up on a Native American reservation in New Mexico. Most of the ice cream available was soft serve, so to have a Baskin-Robbins hard serve French Vanilla ice cream scoop was a real treat.
"It was something exciting, something different," Muskett recalled. "French Vanilla was my father's favorite."
And so it became Muskett's favorite too. Now a college professor, he said French Vanilla had been a part of every milestone in his career.
"Well, for almost every academic degree or achievement I accomplished, Baskin-Robbins ice cream or cakes with French Vanilla have been served," Muskett said.
Muskett created a small rebellion by launching a Facebook group to save his beloved flavor. An ice cream enthusiast, Muskett said that he could taste the difference if a root beer float used regular vanilla instead of French Vanilla.
'Flavors Come and Go'
"I think most people have fond memories of their childhood that involve some association of consuming ice cream," said Bruce Tharp, a consultant to the ice cream industry.
Tharp grew up in his family's ice cream business, Tharp's Ice Cream. He's so steeped in ice cream he teaches food science at Penn State University and serves as chief ice cream judge at the Intercollegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest. In 2006, he received the lifetime achievement award from the International Ice Cream Association.
"I assume that somebody like Baskin-Robbins that discontinues a flavor does it with the understanding that it may be near and dear to people that love that flavor," he said. "It's a marketing risk."
Tharp said that as the American palate for ice cream has evolved, flavors come and go. He said that besides French Vanilla, the other flavors being sent to the "deep freeze" are fad flavors.
"They're not the kind that develop a long-term attraction," he said.
Even as flavors come and go, ice cream has been a part of our history. Alexander the Great savored snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar. George Washington paid $200 for ice cream one hot summer.
Tharp said that ice cream flavors have become increasingly complex.
"The big rush in flavor development is just how complicated can we make it, how much stuff can we put in it. Think Rocky Road or Heaveny Hash."
In its frozen vault, Baskin-Robbins has more than 1300 flavors it has sold since 1945.
Still, Tharp cautions that some people like basic ice cream. And he should know. His favorite flavor: plain chocolate.