Dairy Queen Headquarters Tests and Perfects Flavors Fans Love

Dairy Queen headquarters in Edina perfects recipes that make franchises successful and fans faithful.

The simple act of pulling a lever to dispense gentle mounds of soft-serve ice cream topped with an iconic curl triggers fond memories in the hearts of Dairy Queen faithful across the country and around the world. Dairy Queen has delivered sweet joy to the taste buds of ice cream lovers for nearly 70 years. And its headquarters are right here in Edina.  The creamy deliciousness of Dairy Queen soft-serve was created by an Illinois father and son back in 1938, when the concept of franchises was barely a blip on a business owner’s radar screen. A trial run of 10-cent samples resulted in more than 1,600 servings sold in less than two hours. A delicious frozen treat suitable for successful franchised distribution was born.Named in honor of cows as the epitome of dairy freshness, Dairy Queen grew from fewer than 10 stores before World War II to 100 stores by 1947 and more than 2,600 stores by 1955. Incorporation in 1962 brought Dairy Queen’s headquarters to Minnesota. Approximately 230 employees currently work at the Edina headquarters to develop and deliver the best-tasting treats to franchisees and loyal fans. Today, there are more than 6,000 independently owned and operated Dairy Queen locations in 20 countries around the world.A Smile and a StoryTim Hawley is vice president of marketing communications. “We don’t have customers, we have fans,” he says. “People, no matter their age, are emotionally connected to the Dairy Queen brand. We connect with people’s hearts by providing a memory.” Those memories often relate to events like going out for ice cream after a baseball game, getting a cone with grandparents or going out for dessert with a date.Hawley grew up in Edina and remembers his older sister working at Dairy Queen at 50th and France. “I’d ride with my dad to pick her up after work,” Hawley says. “She always smelled like vanilla, was in a good mood and brought me and Dad each a Dilly Bar. She loved her job. Dairy Queen is a happy place.”“I get two things whenever I tell someone I work for Dairy Queen: a smile and a story,” says Dean Peters, associate vice president of communications. “The stories are often of someone’s first trip to Dairy Queen or a declaration of their favorite Dairy Queen treat. Purists prefer a vanilla cone that’s still made from a soft-serve recipe that remains locked in a Minneapolis bank vault.“The creamy texture and vanilla taste are what make Dairy Queen soft-serve so good. It tastes that good with only 5 percent butterfat, while most ice creams and custards are made with 10 percent butter fat or more,” he says.Special machines dispense Dairy Queen’s soft-serve ice cream. “Our trademark curl cannot be duplicated with any other machines or mixes,” says Peters. Plus, the machines allow Dairy Queen to dish up its soft-serve in a semi-frozen state that doesn’t freeze the taste buds. This provides a richer flavor experience. Peters insists their experts can quickly discern imitators by the texture and taste.Happenings at HeadquartersDairy Queen headquarters in Edina strives to provide everything a Dairy Queen franchisee needs to succeed. A research and development lab and quality assurance team are among the departments at work to perfect new flavors and products. “Many ideas come from our franchisees,” says Peters. “But we test everything here.”Dairy Queen’s best-selling ice cream product, the Blizzard, began as an idea shared by a franchisee that was later perfected in a headquarters test kitchen. Since the Blizzard’s launch in 1985, Dairy Queen has introduced more than 100 Blizzard flavors. The s’mores Blizzard was introduced this past summer and was an overnight success. Combining two of summer’s most nostalgic treats—s’mores and Dairy Queen soft-serve—was surely a stroke of flavor genius.This fall, Dairy Queen will bring back the pumpkin pie Blizzard and lengthen its availability based on customer demand. “We often bring back flavors that do well,” says Peters. “I imagine the brownie batter and confetti cake flavors will come back around. They were fantastic.”Dairy Queen researchers are always looking at trends and taste-testing. “We might test 200 Blizzard flavors every year and come out with five or six,” says Hawley. A few flavor bombs rejected by taste testers have been maple bacon, chocolate-covered watermelon and chocolate-covered espresso bean. Sometimes flavors can be a hit overseas but not here at home. For example, Dairy Queen’s green tea Blizzard is a best-seller at its 500 China locations, but it hasn’t captured the hearts of the American ice cream-eating public.Edina resident Lynn Oehlke was a food technologist for Dairy Queen in the early 1990s. Half of her job entailed random product tests to ensure quality. The other half involved menu development. “Vendors would supply products and ideas, and I got to test them,” says Oehlke, who now works as a contractor for Delta Airlines. “At times, we would invite others at the company to come in and taste things. Everybody had his or her specialty. Mine was Blizzards and Orange Julius.”Oehlke recalls mixing various chocolate chunks and flavorings to create Blizzard samples for further taste testing. “Many people asked how I maintained a healthy diet while tasting ice cream all day,” says Oehlke. “But no one likes to hear that, like a wine or coffee taster, we spit out each sample.” She laughs. “There’s no way to taste everything otherwise.”When asked about her favorite Dairy Queen treat, Oehlke still enjoys an Oreo Blizzard. But she says meeting her husband was the best part of working at Dairy Queen. Oehlke’s husband Mark worked for Dairy Queen as part of a store-opening team and as a trainer. At that time, the Oehlkes were one of 42 married couples who met while working at Dairy Queen headquarters.“It was a great job,” says Mark, who now owns Mulberry Builders in Edina. “I was right out of college and was given a great amount of responsibility. I met many great people and traveled a ton, helping to open stores as far away as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” When asked if Dairy Queen is a big hit in Saudi Arabia, Mark replies, “Of course. It’s ice cream in the desert!” Memories are being made around the world when new fans get their first taste of Dairy Queen.Fun Facts• The first Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Ill., in 1940. • The Dilly Bar debuted in 1955. • The Blizzard was introduced in 1985, with more than 175 million Blizzard treats sold the first year. • In 1987, Dairy Queen bought the Orange Julius chain. • In 1998, Dairy Queen was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company run by famed investor Warren Buffett. • A record was broken on June 21, 2005, when a new world’s largest Blizzard treat was built in Springfield, Mass. It weighed 8,224.85 pounds and was 22 feet tall. • The chicken strip basket and Grillburgers are Dairy Queen’s best-selling non-dessert items. • The largest Dairy Queen in the United States is in Bloomington, Ill. • The largest Dairy Queen in the world is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. • This writer’s favorite Dairy Queen treat is a hot fudge sundae with pecans.