It is 10 pm at night, perfect time for a sweet snack to end the day on a sweet note. You put your sweatshirt on and head to the deli around the corner. You open the fridge right behind the entrance and grab a pint of vanilla ice-cream with chunks of cookie dough and chocolate chips. All you want to do is rush home, take a spoon and start devouring the pint until it all melts in your mouth and brings a huge smile to your face. This story only reveals the tip of the iceberg but there is a very long and tedious process put into making ice cream and delivering to your door. For the last 2 years, I have been working as a Supply Manager in one of the biggest global organizations that produce Ice-Cream. I want to explain to you the process of making ice cream from beginning to end and what type of engineers are involved with the process.
The first step is to design a formula that will taste good and be favorable to consumers. Deep consumer and market analysis must be done prior to designing a formula to better serve the needs and the desires of the consumers. Chemical or food engineers work in their labs to develop a formula with good consistency within the limits of the legal description of an ice cream. In order to call a frozen desert, ice cream, it has to contain a certain amount of fat and dairy. The legal description changes from country to country and needs to be followed according to the country where the ice cream will be sold and distributed. There are many ingredients that go into an ice-cream pint such as dairy, cream fat, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers and additional inclusions according to the type of the ice-cream you want to make. Additional inclusions are up to your imagination. The most common ones are chocolate chips, cookie dough, walnuts, vanilla specks and fruit pieces.
After the ice-cream is produced in the lab, the second step is to produce it on a bigger scale, in a pilot plant or a regular manufacturing plant to test its stability and consistency. Chemical or food engineers develop the process and produce trial samples for further testing. Those trial samples get microbiologically tested for safety and preserved in different conditions for a couple of weeks to observe the transformation of ice-cream at different temperatures and sunlight.
Once the ice cream passes all the tests, it is then ready to be produced in big batches. The supply planner, usually an industrial or an operations engineer, designs a production plan according to the sale forecast, taken from the marketing team and the plant starts producing the ice cream.
All the ingredients arrive at the manufacturing plant a few days before the production to get tested for safety and quality. Once all the ingredients are approved, it is time to start blending. Ice Cream production is a long process that includes blending of the ingredients, pasteurization, homogenization, freezing, packaging, and hardening. When the ice cream is in the form of a soft paste, it is formed into its desired shape. This shape can be as simple as a solid block or as complex as a cone or a sandwich. Once the ice cream takes its shape, it then gets packaged and sent to freezers to harden.
The next step is the distribution. Big temperature controlled trucks load the ice-cream and deliver them to the Distribution Centers (DC). DC’s take the delivery orders from grocery stores and other retail markets and deliver the ice cream to the desired locations.