The half-gallon ice cream container -- the sweet standard of grocery store freezers for decades -- is starting to shrink.
While manufacturers over the years reduced the package size of everything from candy bars to dish detergent, the traditional ice cream "brick" remained what it was -- the half gallon.
Now, pinched by rising ingredient costs and afraid to raise prices that are already above $5, at least two ice cream makers have silently started to replace the half-gallon brick with a 1.75 quart carton.
Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream Inc. -- which is based in Oakland, Calif., and sells the Dreyer's and Edy's brands -- introduced the smaller package in March. The new and old cartons can be found side-by-side during the transition, identical in shape and design -- and price.
"We have over 100 flavors and many of them . . . cost more to produce than regular flavors like vanilla," said Dreyer's spokeswoman Dori Bailey. "We'd like to keep the cost at a price that's more affordable for folks."
Schwan's Sales Enterprises Inc. of Marshall, Minn., which sells primarily through a 7,000-vehicle fleet of home delivery trucks, made the switch in 2001, phasing out the half-gallon carton in favor of a 1.75 quart lidded container.
Other major ice cream makers, including Good Humor-Breyer's and Turkey Hill Dairy, are sticking with the half gallon for now. About three quarters of all ice cream is sold by the half gallon, according to the International Ice Cream Association.
Some customers are noticing the change and don't appreciate it. "Everybody's doing it," complained Dorothy McGrath, 73, of Linwood, N.J., as she shopped at a Super Fresh supermarket in Egg Harbor Township. "The same thing happened with laundry detergent. . . . They're cheating the public because they don't advertise it."
Manufacturers have heard such complaints, but sales haven't been significantly affected, they say.