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You've been to "Finding Nemo" (the movie) ... now try "Finding Nemo" (the ice cream)

You've been to "Finding Nemo" (the movie) ... now try "Finding Nemo" (the ice cream)

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I'm sure everyone knows that July is National Ice Cream Month, and the third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day. In President Reagan's 1984 official proclamation, he urged all people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities." It is in this spirit that I present the story you've all been waiting for -- the tale of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Limited Edition Finding Nemo Flavors.

If you East Coasters are wondering what I'm talking about, Dreyer's Ice Cream is known as Edy's on the East Coast. The company was formed in 1928 as a partnership between ice cream-maker William Dreyer and candy-maker Joseph Edy. The company's packaged ice cream is sold under the name Dreyer's Grand on the West Coast and Texas, and Edy's Grand throughout the rest of the country. Just as Disney frequently borrows the Hyperion name from an early studio address, Dreyer's Grand name comes from the company's first factory address on Grand Avenue in Oakland, California.

So how does a Disney ice cream, a Disney/Pixar ice cream no less, make it to the grocery store freezer? The image I got was the Pixar staff on a sugar high, gleefully trying all the flavor samples, while the Disney accountants quietly negotiated for higher licensing fees. As usual, reality settles somewhere in between. To get the inside story, I chatted with Kim Goeller-Johnson, public relations manager for Dreyer's Grand. Contractually, Disney handles most of the negotiations and is Dreyer's primary contact, while Pixar plays a smaller role in the approval/review process. When given the chance, I have a feeling both Disney and Pixar reps enjoy flavor-sampling days the best.

The Nemo flavors went through the same creation process as all the other Dreyer's flavors do, just much quicker since the ice cream had to be ready for the movie's release. The ice cream experts create the flavor, invent a good name, construct an attractive carton, and finally promote the flavor to the public.

One of Dreyer's strengths has always been creating ice cream flavors. William Dreyer is commonly credited with inventing Rocky Road ice cream in 1929, complete with the homespun story of getting into trouble for using his wife's sewing sheers to cut the marshmallows into bite-size pieces. For some reason, the late twenties seem to be a murky time for historians. Just as the legend of Mickey Mouse's creation has been questioned and retold (Walt or Ubbe, Mickey or Mortimer), the creation of Rocky Road ice cream has been challenged. Today, a variety of people and companies take credit for Rocky Road, but it is clear Dreyer's made the flavor popular and has continued inventing flavors to this day.

Today, a team of two brings a Dreyer's flavor to life - a brand manager and a flavor developer/researcher. The brand manager crunches the numbers associated with a new product launch, and the flavor guru (I would put "Flavor DR" on my business cards, but that's just me) creates what the brand manager will be promoting. At least that's the official plan. As with any close team, everyone makes suggestions to try to improve the final product.

Once a flavor is created, then comes the fun part - tasting. Because of the tight deadlines involved with the Nemo flavors, Dreyer's did not have the luxury of public taste tests. Most of the tasting is done by the brand manager and flavor developer. When they find flavors that they think will work, or they just can't handle anymore ice cream for the day, co-workers are recruited to taste. When they get really serious about a flavor, Dreyer's official ice cream taster, John Harrison, is called in. John Harrison's job is fantasized about in ice cream circles much like Dave Smith's job is in Disney collector circles -- it seems like a dream job from the outside, as long as you don't think about all the work they do that the public never sees.

I'm told that this constant flavor tasting gets old real fast. To me, this is just as believable as the stories on how tough it is to be a popular celebrity, or how someone's life got worse after they won the lottery. During the development phase, it's not uncommon for employees to taste around twenty different samples an hour. The preferred sampling method of Dreyer's staff is the time-proven "swish and spit" method perfected by wine tasters. I think I would get the knack of this after about fifty pounds.

For Finding Nemo, the team decided on a mint flavor and a vanilla variation. The blue colored ice cream didn't make the cut. The customized chocolate pieces molded into fish shapes -- much more appealing than just plain chocolate chips -- were contracted out to ingredient suppliers and had their own separate Disney review process. Usually four to six concept flavors will result in the final two flavors that make it to the grocery freezer.

Once a flavor is created, a name must be chosen. As you can see from Dreyer's previous Disney flavors, they come up with some good ones:

Toy Story 2: Chunky Toy Funilla and Infinity Divinity
102 Dalamatians: Spotacular Vanilla & Chocolate Dalmatian Sensation
Monsters, Inc.: Cookies and Screams & Monster's DeLight
Treasure Planet: Galactic Chocolate & Vanilla Treasure

For Finding Nemo, Mint Cookie Crush sounds good: mint ice cream with Finding Nemo chocolate cookies and a thick fudge swirl. It was the other flavor that really caught my eye: Fish 'n Chip flavor. Upon closer inspection I discovered it was Fish 'n Chips in a Cookie Dough Wave: vanilla ice cream and a cookie dough swirl with Finding Nemo chocolaty fish shapes and chips -- even harder to pronounce after eating a scoopful.

I wondered how you get a kid to say, "Mommy, Mommy, can we get Fish 'n Chip ice cream?" I had never heard these two flavors mentioned in the same sentence before. It was actually an outside promotions agency that originally suggested the Fish 'n Chips name. The flavor's brand manager liked it and quickly got behind it, pitching the name to his bosses at the same time he was submitting the packaging design (complete with name) to Disney. While Dreyer's knew ice cream flavors with funny names are very marketable, Disney reacted with "a bit of hesitation." Dreyer's marketing staff showed how the name fit in with Disney's pun-filled campaign (Fish Schtick / Sea It), and finally received Disney's approval. Dreyer's also knew the flavor was a winner - even with the funny sounding name, it has been a huge seller.

Once they had two flavors and two names, cartons were next. An outside promotional design agency -- the same one that came up with the Fish 'n Chips name -- creates the packaging. Disney provides a "style guide" of approved character images, backgrounds, and even typeset fonts that can be used on the carton. Just like the movie itself, the carton was designed on a computer. Since the images are pre-approved, this should be a quick step toward the final approval, but whenever characters are involved, Disney can be very picky. In one early carton design, two characters that didn't interact in the movie were shown together, and Disney asked for this to be changed, but otherwise these approvals went smoothly.

The promotions company takes over and gets the word out about the new flavors. They obviously did a good job since I knew there were two Finding Nemo flavors without any TV commercials. Looking back, I discovered several strategically placed carton photos in various grocery store ads when the flavors first debuted. Of course, after the thermometer made it to 100 degrees, I've also been spending a lot more quality time staring at my grocery store's ice cream freezers.

So that's how a carton of Finding Nemo ice cream makes it to your store. These limited edition flavors will be available through the end of August. Just as Finding Nemo was Pixar's first summer release, this is Dreyer's first Disney-licensed summer ice cream -- the other flavors have all tied-in to winter movies. And just like the movie, the flavors have been big hits -- but don't take my word for it -- treat your family to a carton today!

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