Beat the heat with these ice cream delivery services
I ordered ice cream from Jeni's Ice Cream and Goldbelly—here's how it went.
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I’d like to think that most everyone has a soft spot for ice cream. It’s rich, it’s creamy, it’s endlessly riffable, and with countless delicious vegan or lactose-free brands stocked in grocery store frozen aisles, it’s more accessible than ever.
However, for serious ice cream devotees, what’s on the well-stocked shelves probably isn’t enough. Maybe you want to order in bulk, because, well, it’s summer and how else are you supposed to cool off? Or maybe you’re scouring the earth for the most offbeat and delicious flavors you can find. Either way, you’re in luck: Countless indie scoop shops like Jeni’s, Van Leeuwen, and Coolhaus are shipping through their own websites, and even more—like Brooklyn’s Malai Ice Cream, with flavors inspired by South Asian cuisine, and the legendary Nancy Silverton’s gelato company Nancy’s Fancy—are shipping through the food delivery service we love, Goldbelly.
The obstacles are obvious—how does a company ship pints of ice cream across the country without it melting? That’s why I ordered ice cream from two different places to compare notes: direct-to-consumer brand Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Malai Ice Cream via Goldbelly.
How much does ice cream delivery cost?
I had to do research before I ordered, and this exercise revealed the unfortunate truth of buying ice cream online: it’s expensive.
This makes sense for a few reasons. Ice cream can’t melt in transit and return to its original, ethereal texture by a post-ship refreeze, so it must be shipped with dry ice and insulation to preserve it. This adds significant cost to the company in both materials and box size and weight. Then, the brand must ship the ice cream quickly to prevent the dry ice from sublimating and letting the whole batch melt, which surely costs more than more leisurely shipping options.
To ship a handful of pints to my apartment in Boston, Coolhaus would have charged me $30 with a $60 order minimum, Van Leeuwen $15, and Jeni’s $13. (Disclaimer: Van Leeuwen is quoting $5 to ship as of June, and it’s possible that Coolhaus is less expensive to ship if you live out West, where it's based.)
Plus, since many of these brands pride themselves on high quality ice cream, the prices-per-pint hover around $12 to $15 a pop online, which adds up to a whole lot of money even if you’re buying in bulk. Most of the ice cream options on Goldbelly ship for free, but the cost of their shipping is probably baked into the overall prices; a four-pack of pints from Malai costs $89, or $22 a pint, and a six-pack of Nancy’s Fancy was $94, or about $16 per pint.
Sticker shock or not, I was determined to try ordering ice cream online, so I proceeded to get the goods from Jeni’s and Malai.
What it’s like to order Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams online
Jeni’s is considered a pioneer in the artisan ice cream world, and for good reason. Founded in 2002 by Jeni Britton Bauer with the intention of using dairy from pasture-raised cows and no synthetic flavorings, it’s grown from a small scoop stand at a market in Columbus, Ohio, to having shops in over 16 cities across the country and pints in countless grocery store freezers. And for online shoppers like me, they’ve been shipping ice cream for 14 years and have a whole webpage dedicated to the signature orange delivery box. Expectations were high.
There are over a dozen delectable-sounding flavors available on the site, and online orders have a four-pint minimum. Jeni’s has a handful of curated collections to choose from for the decision-averse like myself.
I placed an order for a five-pack of Jeni’s Essentials—Brambleberry Crisp, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Darkest Chocolate, Salty Caramel, and Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks—on a Thursday, and it arrived the following Wednesday.
The ice cream came in the promised orange box emblazoned with the Jeni’s logo, and the pints were perfectly preserved thanks to the dry ice. However, the ice cream was insulated by a Styrofoam cube—easily one of the least sustainable materials around—so large that it didn’t fit in my trash can or my apartment building’s trash chute. I had to break it down manually to fit in either, leaving my floor covered in bits of Styrofoam and me even more frustrated by the material choice.
Sustainability concerns aside, every single flavor was top-notch. I am not typically a fan of fruit-flavored ice cream, but the mingling of vanilla ice cream, berry-and-currant jam, and oat crumble in the Brambleberry Crisp was extraordinary. This flavor was by far my favorite of the batch. My partner’s was the Salty Caramel, but truly, we would’ve eaten any of them a second time.
What it’s like to order Malai Ice Cream online
Founded by urban planner-turned-entrepreneur Pooja Bavishi in 2015, this Brooklyn-based scoop shop incorporates the fragrant flavors of its founder’s upbringing as an Indian-American into the blank canvas of ice cream. The results are exciting, apparent from just a few of Malai’s nearly 20 flavors: we’re talking Rose with Cinnamon Roasted Almonds and Masala Chai.
Though you can build your own four- or six-pint package through Goldbelly, I purchased the Signature Ice Cream 4-pack, which came with the first two flavors I mentioned, plus Orange Fennel and Sweet Milk.
I ordered on a Monday and it arrived the following Wednesday, but many brands seem to dole out shipments of ice cream once per week, so I anticipated this slight delay. While the box was stuffed with a smaller bag of dry ice than Jeni’s, the ice cream was still plenty frozen. Malai insulated the pints with a material that reminded of me of the stuff you use to insulate a a home, and while that might be slightly better than Styrofoam, it was still a hassle to dispose of (read: non-recyclable).
The ice cream is made with a cream cheese base and no eggs, giving each pint a slight tang and a denser texture than other ice creams I’ve encountered. The way the funk played with the acid and brightness of orange in the Orange Fennel was a highlight for me, while the simplicity of the Sweet Milk and the dense spice of the Masala Chai were favorites for my partner. However, neither of us cared much for the Rose with Cinnamon Roasted Almonds—the rose flavor tasted a bit artificial to us. But one slight miss in a batch of four of the most exciting and inventive ice cream flavors I’ve seen is still a success in my book.
Is ordering ice cream online worth it?
In most cases, no. I was super impressed with the way these brands shipped their pints, and both seem to have the process down to a science. However, unlike other direct-to-consumer products like olive oil and spices, I can find Jeni’s at my local grocery store for less—Jeni’s retails at my local Whole Foods for $9 a pint—and there’s no major discount for ordering in bulk that makes it more economical.
Plus, with both needing to be shipped with insulation, the waste tempered some of the joy I felt in opening them up. While tasting these unique flavors was really exciting, these cons overshadowed the pros for me. That said, if you do plan to order ice cream online be sure to investigate the brand’s shipping practices to avoid a pile of melted dairy.
However, if you’re an ice cream fanatic, or you’re looking to make someone’s week by sending these frosty treats as a gift, you can have countless pints of exciting flavors shipped to you safely and securely for a price. And if you’ve moved away from your favorite scoop shop, you can rest easy knowing that a couple of pints could be at your door in just a week or two. What can I say? The taste of nostalgia is priceless.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.