Among the many new members that have joined Oregon Aglink during our membership drive, several fall into the gourmet and specialty food category where Oregon has shined for decades.
As often as consumers imagine Oregon agriculture represented at their grocery stores by the fresh produce and meat, there are many thriving Oregon companies that use locally grown ingredients to produce all sorts of treats you can find on the shelves or in the freezer aisle.
“Having local ingredients means that our end product is as fresh as possible, and we’re supporting our local farmers,” says Megan Benson, a marketing manager from Ruby Jewel. Founded in Portland but now distributed nationwide, the Ruby Jewel brand makes one thing and makes it well: delicious ice cream sandwiches.
The ties to Oregon agriculture go back to the early days when founder Lisa Herlinger began selling her hand-made ice cream sandwiches amid the leafy greens and fresh fruit at the Portland Farmers’ Market in 2004. Over eighteen years later, the rich ice cream made from locally-sourced milk is sandwiched between two cookies made with real butter, also from local dairies. Many of the flavor ingredients such as mint, honey, and pumpkin come from Oregon farms as well.
Ice cream brands are known for tinkering with their flavors these days, and Ruby Jewel has fine-tuned their lineup to feature fan favorites alongside other special matches that pair the brand’s ice cream with exactly the right cookie. “The Classic” is a vanilla ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies, and it has remained a steady favorite alongside the Lemon-Lavender and Chocolate Mint. Other sandwich varieties include Strawberry, Salted Caramel, Oatmeal Butterscotch, Peanut Butter, Triple Chocolate, and two seasonal specials: Strawberry Lemon in spring and Campfire S’mores in summer.
Maybe more relevant than experimenting with flavors is how the brand has evolved to meet their customers and challenges along the way.
Five years after Herlinger brought her ice cream sandwiches to the farmers market booth, the Ruby Jewel brand appeared in grocery store freezers for the first time in 2009. The specialty ice cream market was booming in Portland around 2010 when Ruby Jewel opened its brick-and-mortar scoop shop on N. Mississippi. Eventually a food truck and mobile “jewel box” mini-freezers made sure customers could find what they wanted, wherever they were.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the brand and its growing team had to make tough choices and a hard pivot from the expanding line of products to the ice cream sandwiches that started it all.
“We only produce one size of ice cream sandwich, which comes in a single-serve pouch,” says Benson. The simplicity allowed for streamlining and automation to increase the capacity of their production team when mixing the ice cream, baking the cookies, and packaging it all to ship out across Oregon and beyond. “The single-serve sandwich has proven to be successful in many channels and works as a grab-and-go item at convenience stores as well as natural stores like Whole Foods,” says Benson.
What they “lost” in any variety of product and ways for people to buy it within the Portland area has been more than made up for by the fact that Ruby Jewel is sold coast to coast. “While we are still very saturated in the Pacific Northwest, we are working to build brand awareness and presence in other regions,” says Benson. “Our strategy is to replicate the success we have had in the Pacific Northwest to the entire United States.”
You can learn more about Ruby Jewel, including where to find their signature ice cream sandwiches, at www.rubyjewel.com. If you know other Oregon food manufacturers or distributors that should join Oregon Aglink, send a message to email@example.com.
By Allison Cloo