Gifford’s: “Making Ice Cream and Having Fun” | July 2017
By Maria Landry
With more than 100 years of history, the family owned and operated Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream is on its fifth generation of ice cream makers. From its late-1800s roots as a home-delivery milk and ice cream business in Connecticut, to moving to Skowhegan in the 1970s, to establishing ice cream stands in the 1980s, Gifford’s has always been growing.
Case in point: In 1983, when Gifford’s sold the milk portion of its dairy business in order to focus on ice cream, it produced 10,000 gallons of the creamy frozen treat that first year. “We can now produce 10,000 gallons of ice cream in a day,” said CEO Lindsay Gifford Skilling. “It’s all made right in Skowhegan.”
The Skowhegan-based Gifford’s sold an eye-popping 2.2 million gallons of ice cream in 2016 and serves more than a million cones each summer from five ice cream stands across the state, in Skowhegan, Farmington, Waterville, Bangor, and Auburn.
According to Skilling, the most popular flavors are what you might expect: “vanilla, chocolate, strawberry. Mint chocolate chip is up there, cookie dough. But our black raspberry chocolate chip [frozen] yogurt, when you combine the yogurts and the ice cream, is like our fourth-ranking flavor.”
The black raspberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt even won first place in an ice cream competition—despite the fact that it’s not actually ice cream. “You can’t even tell that it’s not ice cream,” said Skilling. “It’s that good, in my opinion.”
Gifford’s has won a number of awards, including World’s Best Chocolate, World’s Best Vanilla, and World’s Best Vanilla Bean, all from the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.
“We enter these competitions because we want to make sure that we are producing the best quality ice cream possible,” Skilling said. “We’re not entering them because we’re looking to be awarded. It’s a good way for us to be tested against our competitors. Winning awards on top of getting those results is just amazing also, but we really like the feedback that we get from these competitions.”
Feedback is also essential to developing new flavors. Skilling said that although Gifford’s has a flavor committee, new varieties come about in several ways.
“Sometimes our loyal customers will write to us or call with flavor suggestions. Sometimes it’s our family members— and when I say family, we refer to everybody that works for Gifford’s as family, not just those with the last name. Other times an ingredient supplier will come up and pitch us on a new concept or a new piece of candy or ripple.”
“Sometimes we’ll make a small batch of a particular flavor that we want to test, and we’ll have our ice cream stands sell it and get feedback from our customers,” Skilling added. The result is about 100 unique flavors and counting.
Skilling noted that Gifford’s leadership wants to continue to grow at the right pace for the company. Following a 16 percent increase in gallon sales in 2016, Gifford’s expanded this year in the Mid-Atlantic and South regions.
“We want it to stay a family business now and for years to come,” Skilling said, noting that they don’t want to grow so fast that they “outgrow themselves.”
For now, Skilling said, “We’re having a lot of fun at our ice cream stands with some limited-time offers like the doughnut ice cream sandwich [a promo from April]. We’ve got more [special offers] to come this summer and fall. We’re making ice cream and having fun while we’re doing it.”