Remember Dippin’ Dots? Those little multicolored balls of novelty ice cream were high up there on the “must-have” list for ‘90s kids, alongside Tamagotchis and frosted tips. The peak of their popularity occurred well before social media existed, but we are certain they would have been all the rage on Instagram had the timing aligned better.
In any case, Dippin’ Dots were deemed the “ice cream of the future” after their launch in 1988, but almost 30 years into said future, they seem harder than ever to find.
So what happened after their meteoric rise to popularity? As someone who only ever got to try Dippin’ Dots once in her life at the San Francisco Zoo, presumably because my parents were being paid off by Big Ice Cream, I am disappointed in how seemingly difficult it is for me to spend my hard-earned adult money on alternative frozen desserts! They said adulthood would be hard, but I didn’t think it would be this hard.
Dippin’ Dots’ disappearance from the ice cream main stage may have to do with the bankruptcy for which they filed in 2011, which Business Insider links to their inability to maintain their status as a novelty snack, a death knell for a product that at one point sat above market rate relative tonother similar ice creams, not that many other frozen mini-ball ice creams existed then or now.
Expensive ice cream certainly has its place in the market these days. There are so many
boutique brands available, from the organic to the gluten free, that Dippin’ Dots is no longer an outlier, pricewise. Looking at you, Talenti.
So perhaps that novelty factor does have something to do with their apparent fall from the
heights of ice cream royalty. I recall the flavor being quite good, enjoying being able to mix up
the different options, and of course the joy of getting to boast to my friends that I had lost my
Dippin’ Dots virginity, an important rung on the social status ladder for 11-year- olds.
Dippin’ Dots are not as disappeared as they might seem, in fact, they’re not even close to gone at all. Spherical ice cream lovers have more than 50 locations to choose from in which to get their fix in the Bay Area alone, from malls to ball parks to Chuck E. Cheese. Their Facebook page boasts almost 5 million followers, which is a lot of people opting in for up to date information nabout a supposedly defunct brand.
The simple conclusion here is that Dippin’ Dots has a visibility problem, not an issue of availability. You may not be able to feed your Dots fix with a late night visit to the grocery store (which is presumably the time of day when all spontaneous ice cream buying happens), but you can have them delivered to your home or workplace! At $50 for 30 servings, which is well below market rate, there’s no way to characterize them as inaccessible. Every ‘90s-themed party should be required to include this massive amount of Dippin’ Dots on the snack table, next to the bottle of Surge and other neon green foods which our parents were nuts to let us eat.
In fact, Dippin’ Dots is living up to their reputation as the ice cream of the future, because they are still around today and seem to be pretty successful at hawking their Dots, albeit in non-traditional locations. They’ve disrupted the ice cream industry — there, I said it — by focusing on alternative markets and are continuing to turn a profit despite a large population believing they no longer exist. They also have a Halloween-themed cookies n’ cream flavor called Spookies N’ Cream, and that’s a pretty modern pun.
So welcome Dippin’ Dots back to their rightful place on the stage. Remember that if you go to Chuck E. Cheese searching for ice cream, you have to bring a child with you or they won’t let you in.
Ali Wunderman is a freelance writer with her feet in San Francisco and her heart in Iceland.