Today, the ingredient list for a pint of vanilla reads as follows: "Skim milk, eggs, erythritol [a low-calorie sugar alcohol], prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, cream, organic cane sugar, vegetable glycerin [an additive that can help maintain moisture levels or act as a sweetener], natural flavor, sea salt, vanilla beans, organic carob gum, organic guar gum [both stabilizers], organic stevia leaf extract."
Much of that is pretty recognizable, but it's also a bit more complicated than what's in vanilla Haagen-Dazs: "cream, skim milk, cane sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract."
There are more ingredients in a pint of Halo Top, but fewer calories, fat and sugar. For comparison, one pint of vanilla Halo Top has 280 calories, 8 grams of fat, 24 grams of sugar, 20 grams of sugar alcohol and 20 grams of protein. One pint of vanilla Haagen-Dazs has 1,000 calories, 68 grams of fat, 80 grams of sugar and 16 grams of protein.
Therein lies the sell. "Halo Top is the first-ever ice cream, first and foremost, that's actually good for you and actually tastes good, so it's kind of an oxymoron," says Bouton.
Whether Halo Top is "healthier" than regular ice cream depends on how much you're eating, according to Lisa Moskovitz, a registered dietitian and the CEO of The NY Nutrition Group, a Manhattan-based nutrition counseling practice.
"If you can stick with the appropriate ¼ pint (or ½ serving) then it can make for a much healthier alternative than regular ice cream," she says.
But the lower calorie count and sugar content (and arguably less satisfying taste) can cause people to eat more Halo Top than they would regular ice cream, she says. In that case, having one serving of regular ice cream might be a better choice.
Lauren Ott, a registered dietitian who calls herself "The Dessert Dietitian" for her love of sweets, agrees. She doesn't like that Halo Top's marketing encourages consumers to eat the whole pint. (The pint's foil topper says "stop when you hit the bottom.")
"Encouraging anyone to eat an entire pint of ice cream, low calorie or not, is encouraging binge eating," says Ott. (Bouton says Halo Top certainly doesn't want to encourage bad eating habits but that many people eat a certain number of calories a day and structure their meals to allow for half or a full pint of Halo Top, which he says is not binge eating.)
Plus, in large amounts the sugar alcohols in Halo Top can "wreak havoc on the digestive tract," Moskovitz says, but they are "completely fine in moderation."
So what's the bottom line? "As long as the consumer is eating Halo Top in appropriate servings, I think it's a great way to cut back on calories and sugar to curb your sweet craving," says Ott.
As for the taste, there are dissenting opinions. One Reddit thread from April starts with a bold claim: "I'm sorry but I think I'd rather have half of a serving of regular ice cream as opposed to an entire pint of halo top. Weirdest taste and texture EVER." The redditor was not alone: "I hate it too! So much. And i wanted to like it badly. I've tried at least 20 flavors, but still nope," another person writes.
Others love it.
But Bouton is realistic about the experience. "When it comes to the taste, I would never sit here with a straight face and tell somebody it's going to taste as good as a full-calorie, full-sugar, full-fat version. No chance," he says.
"It's meant to be something you can eat every day if you love ice cream," says Bouton. "But it's not meant to replace your full-calorie, your indulgent ice creams. I still eat full-calorie ice cream. Not every day but every couple weeks for sure."
So what's Bouton's favorite flavor? That changes every week he says, but when he spoke with CNBC Make It, it was peanut butter and jelly, a seasonal flavor. "[I]n the best way possible it tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in ice cream form."
Whatever its place in customers' diets, Halo Top has already become more than a couple of lawyers could have ever imagined.
The brand launched internationally, first in Australia in January 2016 and this year in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Woolverton and Bouton have also opened three scoop shops in Los Angeles since November 2017.
In the beggining, "We were probably a little more tunnel vision of you know it's a niche market ... a 'Skinny Cow' or something like that," says Bouton. (Skinny Cow makes diet frozen desserts.) "We couldn't have dreamed of what it has become and how big it has become."
And it could get bigger.
"At one point in time, Coca-Cola was a start-up company that sold a soda and now it's this iconic centuries-old brand," Bouton says. "Why can't we be the next Coca-Cola? And that's not in an arrogant way, but that's kind of the opportunity in front of us if we can execute on it."
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