The Untold Truth Of Dairy Queen's Famous Blizzard

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”If they can introduce new flavors, the Blizzard can be as long-lasting as the ice cream cone.” That's what analyst Richard E. Pyle said about the Dairy Queen Blizzard when it burst onto the fast food landscape over three decades ago.

Pyle was certainly correct in his assessment of the frozen treat as there are few desserts that you can get in a drive-thru as decadent, satisfying, and dependable as the Blizzard. In the United States Dairy Queen keeps 11 different signature Blizzards on its menu, but regularly rotates in limited time Blizzards like the Candy Cane Chill or "Guardians of the Galaxy" Blizzard. (Brownie, cookie, caramel, and choco chunks in case you were curious.)

All of this of course adds up to a treat that has helped make Dairy Queen one of the United State's most popular fast food chains with more than 4,400 stores. What you might be surprised to learn, however, is the Blizzard didn't technically come from Dairy Queen... and it's not even ice cream.

It was a hit right out of the gate

Delicious soft serve with candies and cookies blended into the mix is pretty much going to be a surefire hit no matter what you call it. Dairy Queen was already a success story with a 40-year-long history of ice cream treats like banana splits and Dilly bars, but in 1985 the fast food chain added a menu item that would forever alter its history.

Obviously, we're talking about the Blizzard and when it debuted people couldn't get enough of the frozen treat. ”I need my fix of cookies, ice cream and chocolate, and it's all here in this cup,” Edward Weaver told The New York Times back in 1986. The Blizzard rolled out in Dairy Queen locations in 1985, and by 1986 the company was predicting to sell 175 million Blizzards — almost twice what it sold in the first year. Dairy Queen's president at the time, Harris Cooper, called it "the biggest thing that has happened to Dairy Queen in the last 25 years."

Considering just how popular DQ's Blizzards still are 30-something years later, it's fair to say Cooper was spot-on with his assessment.

A Dairy Queen operator invented the frozen treat

The Blizzard wasn't invented in some high-rise board room or fast food think tank, but by a Dairy Queen franchise holder in Missouri. Samuel Temperato was one of the company's most successful franchisees and owned 67 of the restaurants in the St. Louis area at the time of the Blizzard's creation. He would eventually expand his ice cream empire to 81 Dairy Queens.

Although Temperato took credit for bringing the Blizzard to Dairy Queen's senior executives and held a patent on the Blizzard machine, he somewhat disagreed with DQ officials dubbing him the Blizzard's inventor. Temperato made sure to give credit where credit was due and as far back as 1986, he wanted to make sure the public knew that the spark for creating what would become the Blizzard actually came from a Dairy Queen competitor.

Temperato wanted credit for the dessert to go to Ted Drewes Jr., a local business owner who ran the popular Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stands, which are still in business today. Drewes' popular item that helped them compete with Dairy Queen was his Concrete frozen custard. At the time, Drewes said that he "didn't see the value" in adding candy to his custard, but of course, Temerato did and thus, the Blizzard was born.

Dairy Queen's stock soared because of them

You would have been wise to purchase some Dairy Queen stock in 1984, because like we mentioned above, 1985 was a very good year for the company. Needless to say, when you sell 175 million of anything business is good and your stock value moves upward.

To give you an idea of just how big an impact the Blizzard had on Dairy Queen's financial health, in 1985 the company reported a net income of $9.6 million with $151 million in sales. That's the year the Blizzard blew in to shake things up. By 1986, financial experts estimated the company's net income to be $13 million from sales of $185 million. That's roughly a 26 percent spike in profit and almost all of it was due to the Blizzard.

Dairy Queen sold the smallest of the treats, a 12-ounce Blizzard for just $1.29 and it didn't take long for the company's stock to rise. In early 1985, it was at around $40 a share and by mid-October it had risen to $72.50, according to The New York Times.

For shareholders at the time, the only thing sweeter than the Blizzard itself was the wealth that came with it.

Crushing up the candy pieces used to be tiring work

For ice cream lovers, working at a Dairy Queen might sound like some sort of fantasy land job, however, making all those Blizzards can be draining.

When Dairy Queen rolled out the Blizzard in 1985, the treat was available in four different mix-in flavors: Oreo, M&Ms, Heath Bars, and Snickers. Ten flavors of syrup were available with 35 different menu combinations to choose from. The Blizzard machine cost each franchise around $500 and its "deafening" whine was more than a little annoying. "'By the end of the night, we're pretty tired of hearing that thing," one DQ employee said.

The real pain of making Blizzards back in the day though was crushing up all those mix-ins. It's probably safe to assume that these days DQ buys its mix-ins pre-chopped, but that certainly didn't use to be the case. In fact, 30 years ago M&M/Mars flat out refused to sell broken candy bars and cited that a "quality product" was a complete bar.

The only alternative was for Dairy Queen employees to spend hours crushing up the different mix-ins to meet the Blizzard demands of the public. Chicago DQ owner Robert Bardell said at the time that the Blizzard increased his sales of $300 a day, but making the treat was demanding. ”It's tough crushing a case of Snickers when you have a store full of customers.”

The largest Blizzard ever stood 22 feet tall

In 2005, the town of Springfield, Massachusetts welcomed the first day of summer with a Blizzard. A 22-foot tall Blizzard to be exact. In order increase his Guinness World Record fame and raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, DQ franchisee Mark Cowles brought in more than 700 gallons of soft serve and 3,000 pounds of crushed Oreo pieces.

The Blizzard weighed in at over 8,000 pounds and took 20 volunteers nearly two weeks to create. (How they kept the soft serve from melting or spoiling is anybody's guess.) Cowles had already created a record-setting Blizzard back in 1999, so the guy obviously knew what he was doing and wasn't a Blizzard newbie. Dairy Queen corporate was of course thrilled with the feat and lauded the world record that just so happened to coincide with the Blizzard's 20th anniversary.

As to what became of the colossal Blizzard, we're hoping that it didn't go to waste and every man, woman, and child in Springfield got a share of the giant treat.

The Blizzard almost lost its Mars candy toppings

Most Dairy Queen Blizzard-lovers probably don't even realize how close they came to losing their favorite Blizzard forever. Imagine a Dairy Queen where M&Ms weren't an option. The horror! 

You see, all those great mix-ins like M&Ms, Snickers, and Heath Bar belong to the Mars candy company and in 2016 somebody with way too much power decided it wasn't a good idea to partner with Dairy Queen. Mars suddenly grew a conscience and felt that items like the Blizzard and McDonald's McFlurry "exceed in a single serving the amount of sugar the U.S. government recommends anyone eat in a day." We're not going to argue that an M&M Blizzard isn't loaded with sugar, but people generally know what they're getting into when they order ice cream mixed with a candy bar.

Mars quickly took heat from critics who said that the company was being "hypocritical" and that it was "silly" because it's "all junk food" to begin with.

The candy company did eventually come to its senses, because you can still find mix-ins like Heath and M&Ms on the Blizzard menu.

They're not made with ice cream

"Blizzards aren't made with real ice cream?! Whaaat?!" That's right, your delicious Blizzard is an ice cream impostor. It is though a very real dairy product, so let's get that ugly rumor out of the way. It's still delicious and dairy-based, but the name has to do with the Food and Drug Administration's ice cream regulations.

The science geeks over at the FDA don't take their ice cream titles lightly and require that for a product to technically be called ice cream it must contain at least 10 percent butterfat or milkfat . (This is also why you're ordering a shake and not a milkshake at McDonald's.) Dairy Queen soft serve only contains half the butterfat. There are also some specifics regarding air. Air is added to the soft serve to help it become a little lighter for the blending process, but this also results in your Blizzard melting quicker than your standard ice cream.

One of the most popular Blizzards isn't even available in the U.S

There are a number of articles floating around the internet that aim to end the debate on which Blizzard flavor is the best once and for all. However, what many of these rankings fail to realize is that in the United States, we're only getting a glimpse of the Blizzard's true coat of many colors. The most popular Blizzard flavor in the United States might be Oreo, but that's not necessarily the case overseas.

So what Blizzard flavor is all the rage for Dairy Queen patrons in Asia? That would be green tea of course! The company has been in China since 1990 and now boasts more than 700 locations in that country. In fact, Dairy Queen is so big overseas that they now serve 27 countries outside of the U.S. A big part of Dairy Queen's success in the foreign market was finding the right flavors that could work in its existing menu and still appeal to a different customer palette.

"You have to get to know your customer and offer flavors that cater to the local market. In northern China, people love strong flavors but enjoy fruit-based desserts and less chocolate," former manager at DQ International Kevin Lee told Fortune. "In southern China, green tea-based flavors are more popular, and there's more consumption of chocolate, but it can't be the central flavor."

Should you be lucky enough to visit a Dairy Queen someplace like say, Qatar for example, you'll have Blizzards like pine tart, green tea almond, and mango cheesecake among other exotic flavors.

One annoying kid helped spawn the upside down test

If you've had a Blizzard at least a few times, chances are you've seen a Dairy Queen employee turn your treat upside down first before handing it to you. This somewhat bizarre practice of proving just how thick the Blizzard is didn't come about after a Dairy Queen brainstorm session, but because of a kid.

Remember when we mentioned that Samuel Temperato credited Ted Drewes Custard with the inspiration for the Blizzard? Well, Drewes is also likely responsible for the upside down gimmick! In the late 1950s, Steve Gambler was a 14-year-old kid in St. Louis who was a regular at Drewes Custard and routinely challenged the business owner to thicken up his custard.

Eventually, "just to shut me up" Gambler said Drewes handed him a custard upside down and said "Is that thick enough for you?" 

Seeing as how Temperato took the very idea of the Blizzard from Drewes, it's not a far leap to guess he took the ability to flip it from him, too.

The upside down test may get you a free Blizzard

Making a Blizzard so thick that it can be held upside down without spilling onto the floor might not be rocket science, but there is some science involved. It's all about temperature and viscosity. The soft serve is stored at exactly 23 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it has the right texture. Emulsifiers, the magical ingredients that slow down the melting process of ice cream, give it a very high viscosity, allowing it to remain in your cup when flipped upside down.

Dairy Queen of course wants to show off that Blizzard science with the upside down test and it could nab you a free treat. In 2015, the company announced that Blizzards that were not served upside down would be free. "Thinking differently and celebrating an upside-down philosophy runs deep in the DQ system," Dairy Queen marketing representative Barry Westrum said.

The policy used to vary from store to store depending on how the owner felt about pushing employees into odd customer interactions, but now it's even in drive-thrus. 

Of course, the science may not always come through.  "They flipped my very preggo wife's Reese's blizzard [and] it fell out," one customer on Reddit said. "They remade it and didn't flip the new one." Hey, it's Dairy Queen, not NASA.

DQ occasionally gives away free Blizzards

So we know that you might be able to get a free Blizzard if some Dairy Queen employee is slacking and forgets to flip it upside down, but that's not the only chance to get one for nothing. Dairy Queen occasionally runs promotions to drum up excitement about the Blizzard and nothing gets people talking like free ice cream.

Most recently, Dairy Queen was giving away free Blizzards in an effort to get people using its app. (Because why wouldn't you want another fast food app on your phone?!) All folks had to do was download the app and create an account to get a digital coupon for a small free Blizzard.

Getting a free Blizzard for using a phone app is fine and all, but it doesn't compare to the wow factor that Dairy Queen launched in 2010. To celebrate the treat's 25th birthday, Dairy Queen unveiled *drumroll* ... the Blizzard Mobile! The food truck went on a 25 city tour across the lower 48 states and delivered more than 75,000 free mini Blizzards.

If any proof was needed as to how popular the Blizzard Mobile was, AdWeek summed it up perfectly with the headline "DQ's Blizzardmobile turns people into idiots." Free Blizzards are a powerful thing.

The Royal was a Blizzard game changer

For the Blizzard's first 30 years, it was trucking along fine with different candies, cookies, and syrups blended into its soft serve. Then something wonderful happened to the Blizzard in 2016. Dairy Queen decided to up its Blizzard game and tunnel out a cavity of the Blizzard and fill it up with fudge, strawberry jam, or whipped marshmallow.

It might seem a little bizarre, but the whole name "Royal Blizzard" was a Dairy Queen marketing gimmick to capitalize on Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday. The customary red spoon was even temporarily switched out with a gold sparkly one. Because we all know the Queen isn't using a common peasant's red spoon when she enjoys her Blizzards.

As popular as the Royal Blizzard instantly was on social media, once again, Dairy Queen couldn't take full credit for the idea. If the idea of an inner core of goodness within your ice cream sounds familiar that's because Ben & Jerry's did it first with their Core line of ice creams in 2014. Even though the idea wasn't 100 percent a Dairy Queen original it was the company's biggest innovation with the treat in three decades. Kudos for that, DQ.

Even some celebrities have tried the upside down Blizzard trick

When a Dairy Queen employee upends your cup of candy-heavy frozen dessert, it can be a little unnerving, until you see it hold up like a sculpture. Convinced that it is no ordinary ice cream, you're tempted to try it out yourself (just one tip: go easy on the toppings). You aren't the only one: Many celebrities, including President Joe Biden and billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given it a shot — some more gracefully than the others. In 2020, Biden, then a presidential candidate, tweeted a clip of him flipping a Dairy Queen blizzard on National Dessert Day (yes, there is one, and it's on October 14).

Meanwhile, the well-heeled DQ clientele, Gates and Buffett, spent a chunk of their day at a Dairy Queen learning how to serve (and make) the Blizzard in 2019, as Gates noted in his blog. Microsoft founder Gates managed to get the flip on point, but Buffett, whose company Berkshire Hathaway owns Dairy Queen, sort of botched it. 

Dairy Queen had to go to court for the Blizzard trademark

Though by definition the word "Blizzard" refers to a horrendous snowstorm, it turns out both Dairy Queen, and a Massachusetts-based office supplies company called WB Mason found the word rather appealing.  

According to intellectual property law and litigation firm Cowan Liebowitz Latman's website, WB Mason's decision to bring out a line of bottled spring water called Blizzard in 2010 provoked Dairy Queen to defend the exclusivity of the name that it had already been using for its star item, the Blizzard, since 1985. The fast food chain filed a lawsuit against WB Mason for trademark infringement. Tacking on another argument to its lawsuit, Dairy Queen mentioned that the chain also sold bottled water in its stores, and having some other company sell Blizzard water would only create confusion among customers, as reported in Reuters

In yet another case, Dairy Queen found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Some customers called out the company for falsely advertising free Blizzard coupons on its mobile app (via Top Class Actions). Per the lawsuit, customers received the digital coupons, but no store would accept them — it turns out, they had never approved the advertisement for a free Blizzard in the first place. Let's just say, the prospect of a free sugary treat caused a lot of sourness for some, not to mention the wasted fuel, time, and effort. 

It is the official treat of Major League Baseball

Snacks and sports pair as nicely as chips and guac — in fact, so nicely that sports leagues have their own official snacks. Tostitos is the "Official Chip and Dip Sponsor of NFL," per a press release from PepsiCo; Cheez-It and Pringles are Major League Soccer's official snacks (via Snack and Bakery). Then, of course, there is the unbreakable link between Cracker Jack caramel popcorn and baseball. Per Food & Wine, there is even a new Cracker Jill packaging design to support women's sports. Following this well-trodden path is Dairy Queen's role as the official treat of Major League Baseball, per sportswriter Eric Stephen's tweet posted in April 2022. "Cody Bellinger [of the Los Angeles Dodgers] and Fernando Tatis Jr. [of the San Diego Padres] are going to be in advertising later this season promoting the Dairy Queen blizzard, which is now the 'official treat of MLB,'" Stephen wrote. 

According to Alicia Jessop, a professor at Pepperdine and a contributor to the sports website The Athletic, the Blizzard's association with Major League Baseball marks Dairy Queen's entry into sports league sponsorship (via Twitter). A study published in "Pediatrics" showed that between 2006 and 2016, Commercials that linked food and beverages to sports received around 195 million views on YouTube. Not to be a party pooper, but the study also showed that most of the foods advertised in these videos were high in sugar/calories (via CNN). Blizzards are no exception. 

Most Blizzard flavors never make it past the testing phase

Dairy Queen has shown us that it is okay to get adventurous with all things sugar. It imagined soft serve with a combo of candy cane pieces and chocolate chunks (Candy Cane Chill Blizzard) and with a crunchy mix of chocolate chunks, toasted coconut, cookies, and caramel (Reindeer Bites). It managed to turn pumpkin pie, pretzels, and even graham crackers into ingredients in the thick chilled Blizzard blend (via Bay DQ). The recipes might seem a tad random, but every flavor the chain releases goes through careful planning and taste testing before being served to the DQ fans (upside down, of course). Tim Hawley, vice president of marketing communications at Dairy Queen, told Edina Magazine in 2013, "We might test 200 Blizzard flavors every year and come out with five or six." A flavor hits the market only after the taste testers wave a green flag.

Lynn Oehlke, who used to develop menus and taste test Blizzards and Orange Julius at Dairy Queen, got to experiment with different combinations of chocolate chunks and flavorings as part of her everyday work. It might seem like an enviable job, but as with wine or coffee, where the taste tester doesn't gulp down all the samples, Oehlke admits to (this might hurt) spitting out the Blizzard samples. "There's no way to taste everything otherwise," she told Edina Magazine.

There's a secret Blizzard recipe for Harry Potter fans

Dairy Queen's answer to the buzz around Steven Spielberg's 2015 movie "Jurassic World" was The Jurassic Smash Blizzard, which had generous crumbles of peanut butter cookies and chocolate chunks mixed in with the vanilla soft serve (via Thrillist); the fast-food chain did something similar again when "Guardians of the Galaxy" released in 2017 — the Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard had brownie pieces, chocolate chunks and caramel (via QSR Magazine). Dairy Queen had brought out the dinosaur-inspired flavor in partnership with Universal Pictures and celebrated the Guardians after shaking hands with Marvel Entertainment.

Though Dairy Queen never officially collaborated with Warner Bros, fans of the wizard kid Harry Potter can rest easy knowing that it doesn't take O-level magic to be able to have a Butterbeer Blizzard. Like Platform Nine and Three Quarters, that particular blizzard flavor cannot be seen on the menu, but thanks to a DQ employee who goes by the moniker thedairyqueenking on TikTok, we know how to concoct one with ease. Per the video, all it takes is some vanilla syrup, butterscotch syrup, pieces of Butterfinger candy, and whipped cream on the vanilla soft serve to create the Blizzard version of the drink that Potter and his friends sipped on in Hogsmeade pubs.