Whidbey Island has a new look, at least when it comes to its homespun ice cream.
With subtle tones and colors matching its flavors, Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company is rolling out new packaging on products distributed around the Pacific Northwest.
“One of the first things that prompted our thinking to make a change was just looking at all of the different ice cream options people have to choose from on the shelf,” owner Steve Rosen said. “Almost all of them use white and a primary color or two and we wanted to stand out.”
A simple blue-and-white label with a large ferry boat has been the look of Whidbey Island Ice Cream for the past 10 years.
The company is known for its chocolate-dipped bars that come in 30 flavors — from Cardamom to Skagit Triple Berry Lavender — and pints that come in 15 flavors.
Sold at farmers markets and offered on dessert menus at the Renaissance and Westin Hotels in Seattle, Whidbey Island Ice Cream is also a favorite at weddings where guests peruse and pick bars out of a vendor cold cart.
It has a loyal following, Rosen said, so the company had to strike a balance between the old and new.
“For years people have associated our ice cream with the ferry on the packaging so there was no way that was going to go away,” he said.
But the company also wanted to further reflect its small batch manufacturing process, the unique aspect of island living and give each flavor its own identity.
“A lot of love and care go into each of our flavors when we make the ice cream and we wanted to give each one its own design,” he said.
So there’s tiny brown coconuts or cocoa and coffee beans drawn on some flavors, berries in shades of blue or pink on others, little green leaves on mint flavors and so on.
Whidbey Island Ice Cream started in 2005 in the 250-square-foot garage of Freeland residents Mike Rudd and Mary Stoll. They soon asked long-time friends Ron and Florence Hecker to help with marketing, and in 2008, the Heckers took over the business when the Stolls suffered health problems.
Rosen and his wife Jill bought Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company in December. The Rosens also own Rocket Taco in Freeland and Freeland Freeze, where Whidbey Island Ice Cream is served by the scoop.
The couple splits their time between Freeland and Seattle. They recently opened a Rocket Taco in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and they are partners in Elemental Pizza, which has restaurants in Tacoma and Seattle.
To create the new Whidbey Island Ice Cream design, the Rosens worked with California artist Shannon Ecke, someone they’d hired for past business illustrations.
Steve Rosen describes the new packaging as having a “craft paper look.”
“There is something about it that says, ‘small-batch’ which is exactly how we make each pint and bar,” he said.
A quick tour through Whidbey Island Ice Cream’s manufacturing plant on East Main Street in Freeland verifies that.
In one corner of the cramped production room, Joe Valencia checks wooden sticks in a metal mold to make sure the triple-berry ice cream inside won’t fall into the dip.
Then ever so gently, he lowers it into a vat of dark Guittard chocolate.
Plunk they go in, pop they come out, dripping in heavenly currents. Then, like magic, the bars quickly disappear into a walk-in freezer the size of a semi-truck.
“Just yesterday, I did 3,000 bars,” Valencia said. “I can do 4,000.”
Will Turner, president of the company who oversees day-to-day operations, declared ice cream season is officially here. (The company closes Freeland Freeze for the winter and re-opens it Memorial Day weekend.)
“This is the first big order of the season,” Turner said last week. “We make it to order but soon we’ll be making flavors by the day to keep up with demand.”
Sitting at a table, Jason Moreno precisely plops ice cream into pint containers, taps each one against the table, then adds a bit more on top.
“We sell a true pint,” Turner said. “Sixteen ounces packed to the top. Jason makes sure they are absolutely full.”
When orders heat up from stores and distributors, so to speak, Moreno can fill some 1,600 pints a day.
Looking over the new packaging, Turner pointed out the line drawing at the bottom of each pint. “See, it goes from the Navy base in Oak Harbor to the ferry dock in Clinton.”
“Only the design has changed,” he emphasized. “We did not want to change the flavors or profile of the ice cream itself.”
Lochmead Dairy in Oregon still provides the rich 18 percent butterfat, hormone-free cream that provides a smooth, full texture, Rosen said.
Pence Orchard of Wapato, Wash. supplies peaches while lavender grown on Coupeville’s Lavender Wind Farm is used. Berries are Skagit Valley grown, coffee is from Langley’s Mukilteo Coffee Roasters and Seattle’s Theo Chocolate can be found in a new flavor, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk.
Also recently added, Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie flavor in pints and Salted Caramel to the line of ice cream bars.
“One thing we learned early on is what sticklers Ron and Florence Hecker were with the ingredients they used,” Rosen said. “Since taking over the company, we have not changed any aspect of their original recipes.”
Just the design.
But as the packaging testifies, it’s still “literally made on an island.”