The Existential Crisis of Dippin’ Dots

Jackie Renzetti

You’ve probably seen them around shopping malls, festivals, or perhaps the Minnesota State Fair this month.


Dippin’ Dots. Remember these?

dippin dots.jpg



I didn’t know I did, until I saw their stand at the fair last week. And boy, did I leave the state fair with plenty of questions on my mind. The entire concept illustrates an existential crisis — the roughly 20 year old business claims to serve the “ice cream of the future” while retaining its retro logo and color scheme, both of which scream 80’s. On top of that, where can you even find this thing anymore? What gives? Will Dippin’ Dots ever become the ice cream of today?


The backstory to the business is worth considering when contemplating the fate of Dippin’ Dots.


Curt Jones invented the novelty ice cream in 1987. Jones had been doing lab work for a biotechnology company called Alltech, where he freeze-dried probiotic cultures in yogurt into a powder. After playing around with different techniques at work, Jones found a way to make little pebble-shaped ice crystals. Eventually, he realized he could apply this to the classic summer snack as well.


Jones hit the ground running with his new idea. In 1988, Jones and his wife, Katy, opened the first Dippin’ Dots creamery. In the next year, they closed the first failed Dippin’ Dots creamery.


Just like any authentic “success of the underdog” story, Jones remained undeterred, and decided instead to start vending at state fairs. From there, he wound up in Opryland, USA, where his product ultimately became a success. Other amusement parks began buying Dippin’ Dots, and in 1995, the fad hit Japan. By the 2000’s, the colorful Dippin’ Dots stands had become a common sight.


The story may have had a happy ending had it not been for some unavoidable complications. For starters, the treat must be stored at -40 degrees, a detail that hinders consumers from being able to enjoy the treat from the comfort of their kitchen, or even buy it in supermarkets. Going along with that, the little ice cream pebbles are actually flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen — a process that doesn’t come without serious expenses.


In 2011, the company filed for bankruptcy, but remains determined to make a comeback, explaining why we still see the stands around from time to time.


I suppose only time will tell if Dippin' Dots will rise to call itself the ice cream of today.