Freezing the Pandemic Blues

Aug. 19, 2020

Dippin' Dots' side business is helping cushion the blow from the pandemic.

When life gives you lemons, squeeze. And when life gives you a pandemic, freeze.

That’s what Dippin’ Dots is doing. The cryogenically frozen pellets of ice cream, often dispensed by machines, are popular in malls, stadiums, theme parks and any other kind of shopping or entertainment venue where people like to gather. But they can’t do that anymore – at least, not safely – and as a result, DD’s business and production volumes have plunged. Luckily, DD has a side business that makes use of its unique cryogenic pelletizing technology.

DD machines turned out to be useful for certain applications in food ingredients, especially preserving microbiological cultures for fermentation. Starting about 1998, DD began selling equipment for that purpose to customers in America and overseas, which gave the company a nice side source of income.

Dippin’ Dots went into bankruptcy in 2011 and was bought by the father-and-son team of Mark and Scott Fischer the following year. Scott, the new CEO, resolved to expand the potential of this side business, and Dippin’ Dots Cryogenics LLC was established in May of last year.

Operating out of the existing DD plant in Paducah, Ky., Dippin’ Dots Cryogenics froze and pelletized, on a contract basis, microbiological products like probiotics for yogurt and starter cultures for cheese, as well as other ingredients like vegetable fats and plant extracts for vitamins. The business expanded as Greek yogurt exploded onto the scene, making the demand for probiotics zoom.

Now DD is taking its sideline one step further, with a dedicated plant. The new facility had its first runs in mid-August and will come fully online by Sept. 1. Also located in Paducah, it will occupy 6,000 square feet and cost $3.2 million.

The new business comes none too soon, as the pandemic has driven down a lot of DD’s customary trade.

“Demand has dropped off a great deal due to the pandemic,” says Stan Jones, DD’s chief development officer. The contract work is “providing another source of revenue to the business that we didn’t have before. It’s not going to be able to completely make up for the lost business, but it’s certainly going to make it a lot easier for us moving forward.”

Cassoulet, the French bean dish that bakes for a long time in low heat, supposedly evolved as a way for bread bakers to use the leftover heat from their ovens once the loaves were done. I guess we can consider Dippin’ Dots Cryogenics a high-tech version of that same thrifty resourcefulness.