Best Ice Cream Treats for Less Than $1

By Raechel Conover,

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." How true is that? In the heat of summer, nothing sounds better than a cold ice cream treat, except maybe a cheap, cold ice cream treat. National Ice Cream Day falls on the second Sunday of July every year (July 13 in 2014) and just in time for the celebration, we've compiled a list of the best and cheapest ice cream novelties.

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The task wasn't easy, but in a blind tasting our panel of six judges sampled a variety of ice cream treats readily available at the local supermarket. The frozen sweets were divided into categories: ice cream sandwiches, bars, and cones. We sampled products from Nestle, Dove, Klondike, Kroger (the store brand), and Haagen-Dazs. Before you get in a huff about Haagen-Dazs not being a budget option, we purposely threw in a high-priced brand to set a high bar; truthfully, it didn't impress all that much.

In terms of price, Kroger's store brand was the cheapest overall -- the Sammie sandwich goes for a unit price of just 31 cents, an Arctic Blaster bar costs 49 cents, and a Fun Daze Sundae cone fetches 84 cents. Klondike was second in the price line, with a unit price of 58 cents for both the Original bar and the Classic Vanilla sandwich. Nestle rounded up the budget segment with a unit price of 76 cents for its Eskimo Pie and Vanilla Sandwich, and $1.14 for the Drumstick cone. Unit prices for a vanilla DoveBar and a Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar come in at $1.43 and $1.65, respectively. Note that ice cream sandwiches were the cheapest treat in our ice cream tasting orgy, and cones the most expensive -- definitely something to keep in mind the next time the ice cream truck rolls down the street.

Our judges tasted, discussed, and tasted again, and really thought about what their taste buds were experiencing before ranking the selections. Several criteria emerged as critical: a pure, clean flavor was the most important, followed by chocolate (in the coating or the sandwich wafer) that tasted chocolaty, and a shell or cone that delivered a nice crunch.

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Best Budget Ice Cream Novelties. When it comes to budget ice cream sandwiches, the Kroger Sammie is most deserving. With what our panel described as "a crisp and rich chocolate sandwich filled with creamy vanilla ice cream," you can't go wrong. While Klondike and Nestle also garnered favorable comments, neither ranked as high in our judges' opinion.

Klondike tied with Dove in the ice cream bar category. This is notable because at $1.43 per bar, the DoveBar definitely falls into premium range, which cleared the way for the Klondike Original (vanilla ice cream and milk chocolate coating) to reign over the budget niche. A "distinct chocolate flavor, a thick shell, and big crunch" made the Klondike bar a clear standout, and the cool interior was the perfect complement. Our judges also liked the chocolate coating on the DoveBar, describing it in terms such as "creamy" and "exceptional."

For the cone category, we compared Kroger's Fun Daze Sundae and Nestle's Drumstick. The latter was the overall favorite. "The taste was more organic and less artificial," according to several tasters, while the cone had a "nice crunch" and a "less stale texture."

Good Budget Ice Cream Novelties. The Klondike Classic Vanilla sandwich took second place in this treats grouping after being judged "a softer sandwich" than the Kroger Sammie, with ice cream that seemed slightly "less creamy." A couple of tasters, however, preferred the texture on the Klondike sample.

Nestle's Eskimo Pie snagged the runner up spot for the bar category. This one prompted a "wow" on first bite from one panelist, who found the follow through a bit lacking. "The flavor seems to fade fast and end on a bland note," one reviewer added. The ice cream was the main culprit here, as the chocolate was deemed a very close contender for first place.

The Fun Daze Sundae ice cream cone from Kroger was undone by a "soft, almost stale cone" and a "definite artificial taste." Still, the judges were happy with the "creamy, original vanilla ice cream flavor" and a "strong, nutty" taste contributed by the peanut topping.

Less Good Ice Cream Novelties. Some budget ice cream treats in our tasting slowly melted into a last place puddle. They're not bad, per se, but didn't appeal to our panelists' taste buds as much as the others. Taste is tricky, though, so you may disagree with our results.

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  • Ice Cream Sandwich: Nestle. Our reviewers declared the Vanilla Sandwich presented "an initial good flavor but a slight artificial aftertaste." The outer chocolate cookie layers were too "soggy" for many.

  • Ice Cream Bars: Kroger and Haagen-Dazs. Kroger's Arctic Blaster crumbled due to a chocolate outer shell that was "lacking a distinct flavor." Some also insisted "the chocolate just isn't very good." The poor showing of the Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate bar was a surprise, given its reputation and price. But this one didn't stand out, in the panel's collective estimation. Most of our tasters found it "bland" and lacking the punch needed for a high ranking.

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