It has a square shape, no stick, and will make your fingertips cold and sticky as you gingerly bite into its thin chocolate covering to reach the delicious vanilla ice cream encased inside.
This is the iconic Klondike ice cream bar, which is hitting a major milestone birthday this year: At 100 years old, Klondike is still going strong as a staple in the frozen treats sections of most large supermarket and mom and pop grocers nationwide.
In fact, as many as 98 million of the best-selling Klondike product – that square vaniila bar – were sold in 2021 alone, according to Unilever, which acquired the family-owned brand in 1993.
But long before its catchy “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” ads made the brand famous, it spent its first 50 years as a regional treat obtainable only in certain parts of the Midwest.
10 cents a bar….back in 1922
You don’t hear about many products getting cheaper over time, but technically at least, people can pay less for a Klondike bar today than they did 100 years ago.
When it first came out, in 1922, the Klondike bar cost just 10 cents, the equivalent of $1.75 in 2022 dollars. A six-pack of the original bars costs about $4 today – or 67 cents each.
The ice cream snack, which originally had a stick, was the brainchild of William Isaly, a descendant of Swiss dairy farmers and cheesemakers.
He founded the Isaly Dairy Company in Ohio during the early 1900s. The company operated several dairy plants and its own chain of retail stores that sold dairy products, fresh deli meats and ice cream.
According to the brand, the first Klondike bar flavors were vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cherry, maple and grape and were marketed as an affordable treat for the working class.
Almost a decade later, in 1931, an Isaly family member invented a machine called the Polarmatic, which automated the production and poured chocolate over each bar at a rate of 75 Klondikes per minute.
“This is similar to a process used today and now around 380 million Klondike Bars are produced each year,” said Tracy Shepard-Rashkin, senior brand manager at Klondike.
The stick also disappeared because Isaly wanted the Klondike bar to be clearly distinct from its ice cream competitors at the time.
“What would you do for a Klondike bar?”
For years, the silver foil -wrapped frozen desert with the polar bear mascot was not available to most Americans.
Until the 1970s, Klondike was sold only in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 1978, the brand expanded into Florida and then to stores in New York and New England.
Then, just before it hit nationwide distribution in the early 1980s, the brand rolled out a new commercial campaign with a catchy jingle and a challenge: “What would you for a Klondike bar?”
One of the earliest runs of the humorous ad asked fans if they would act like a chicken. Another asked if they would make monkey sounds. Over the years, the challenges became funnier and more daring, eventually making them a memorable pop culture reference.
The fan challenges continue. Last year’s updated jingle asked if a fan would shave off an eyebrow to score a Klondike cone. (He did.)
“As a member of the Isaly family, Klondike has been part of my life since day one,” said June Isaly, whose late husband was William Isaly’s grandson. “We’ve always enjoyed seeing the Klondike love span generations, and now that it’s finally time to celebrate the brand’s 100th birthday, I can’t think of a more iconic way than to ask fans, ‘What would you do for a Klondike?’”
From the original square vanilla ice cream desert to today, the Klondike bar has played around with a bunch of predictable – and some experimental – flavors such as mint chocolate chip, the Oreos bar, a coffee donut bar, frosted strawberry donut and crunch.
And its distinctive shape has evolved …..sort of.
“While the industry is always evolving, we listen to our fans and their needs and look for new ways to provide innovative products,” said Shepard-Rashkin.
There’s the Klondike Choco Taco, a taco shell shaped cone filled with vanilla and fudge swirl ice cream. There are also mini versions (half size) of the original bar, Klondike ice cream cones in a variety of flavors and the newest addition – Klondike Shakes in a pouch.
To keep Klondike relevant to newer, younger consumers, Shepard-Rashkin said Unilever is collaborating Klondike with other popular frozen brands in its portfolio.
Last fall, Klondike partnered with Popsicle to deliver tasty treats outside vaccination sites, and with Breyers to provide Reese’s frozen treats “as an alternative to stealing your kids candy at Halloween,” she said.