VT and Homestead ice cream

From left to right: Brian Wiersema, Bethany Spencer, Joell Eifert, Claudia Pick, Erin Saacke, and Kasey Kohl, Sept. 11, 2022

Virginia Tech and Homestead Creamery have partnered to launch a line of Hokie-inspired ice cream. Joell Eifert, faculty member of the Department of Food Science and Technology and director of the Food Innovations Program, stated the first flavor is available to purchase later this fall.

The first flavor, named Hokie Tracks, is vanilla ice cream with caramel and dark chocolate-covered pretzel chunks, according to VTx. It was available to taste at Gobblerfest.

Eifert and Brian Wiersema, also a faculty member of the Department of Food Science and Technology, both led the project. Wiersema also helped develop the Fightin’ Hokies Lager, which launched in spring 2021.

Wiersema stated that the success of the lager led the department to look into other potential projects, such as ice cream.

“The beer was one of the first things we wanted to do, so we came out with beer, then that was a success, and so we figured out how to do collaborations with local partners with regional partners,” Wiersema said. “We have a list of things that we want to do and (the ice cream) came up high.”

According to Eifert, the Department of Food Science and Technology established a relationship with Homestead in 2004. More recently, the department has begun supporting them with their nutritional facts labels and regulatory compliances. When Eifert and Wiersema were considering which local business to partner with to produce the ice cream, Homestead was a top contender.

When creating flavor profiles, Eifert noted that she had an idea about what flavors she wished to see on the market going into the process.

“I think, obviously, we’re always gonna look at trends, things that are going on, and what people want, what consumers want,” Eifert said. “But I have to be honest with you, some of the other things we do is we make what we want to see, what we like, and if you look at the new flavors, they’re combinations that aren’t out in the public right now; they’re not in the freezers.”

Eifert and Wiersema, both of whom are Virginia Tech alumni, wanted to ensure the ice cream flavors would evoke memories of being on campus again for alumni. However, they were unable to reveal what flavors are yet to come.

“Unfortunately, we don't want to share them because we have some great ideas, and I promise you, they’re reminiscent if you're a Hokie, and you’ve been there,” Eifert said. “They’re reminiscent of businesses that you remember and parts of campus… so we still have flavors to come, and we don’t want to give them away yet, but we’re really excited.”

For Eifert and Wiersema, making the ice cream attractive to all Virginia Tech community members was the most challenging part of the process. Not only did they want to appeal to alumni but also to current generations of students.

“Certainly food is emotional, right?” Wiersema said. “Truly food is emotional in how we taste it, in how we experience it, and what we think of it afterwards, so trying to remember what it was like when we’re younger on campus, and also taking it into account what it’s like for older alum on campus. Trying to hit both sides of that equation (of) the current students, the new alumni and the older alumni, that’s a tough thing to balance.”

In order to give back and create an impact, partnering with local and regional businesses is a key component in the department’s projects, according to Eifert. The Fightin’ Hokies Lager was made in partnership with Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Eifert and Wiersema also stressed that portions of the proceeds from sales goes towards student scholarships and activities.

“That’s where our heart is. We’re not only hopefully giving back and making a positive impact on Virginia business, but then also putting a positive impact on our current and future students,” Eifert said.

The ice cream will use the same distribution streamline as Homestead and will go into retail toward the end of October or the beginning of November.

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