The OG Cereal Milk creator, Milk Bar, has had the Cereal Milk–flavored soft serve on its menu since day one in 2008 at its first location in New York City. Today, Milk Bar is up to 16 locations, serving Cereal Milk soft serve at each, but also rotating through a selection of nostalgia-driven, meticulously crafted soft-serve flavors. QSR spoke with Anna McGorman, Milk Bar’s director of culinary operations, about the brand’s soft-serve flavor development and where she sees the brand taking frozen treats in the future.
Tell me about the Cereal Milk soft serve.
It’s been consistently one of the best sellers across all of our different markets, but we’re always playing with it—adjusting sugar and salt levels and tinkering to perfect it. It is one of our signature and hallmark flavors that we love and will probably have forever.
What other soft-serve flavors do you offer?
We’re always playing around with what our secondary flavor is. So, depending upon the location, the size of the machine, and what our production capabilities are, we like to adjust. We spent most of 2018 with a Chocolate Covered Pretzel soft serve that was super tasty. But, for our 10-year anniversary, we had a throwback flavor, which was our Fruity Cereal soft serve. That had such a fabulous response that we brought it back onto the menu full-time for the first quarter of this year. In Q2, we will transition into a Compost Cookie soft serve. That is one of our special cookies and hallmark flavor profiles. So, chocolate, butterscotch, coffee, oats, graham, pretzels, potato chips—the whole shebang—will get infused into the soft-serve base.
How do you go about developing these recipes?
Whatever the major component flavor-driver is, we’re always going to try to extract the most that we can from whatever it is. There’s usually a steep or an infusion. For instance, whenever we use corn flakes, we like to toast the flakes in the oven to bring out that corny note. Whenever we make something with pretzels, we make what’s called a pretzel steep, but we make sure we toast the pretzels nice and dark in the oven so that you’re getting a really concentrated flavor.
At the end of the day, because soft serve has to be in the right ratio of milk, sugar, and all of the different ingredients inside, you want to try to really infuse it in every possible way. We always get a little bit creative and quirky with how we like to put things inside, whether it’s using coffee grounds or a toasted oat cookie in our Crack Pie soft serve.
Where are you testing new recipes?
We have something called the Milk Bar Lab, which we have in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as part of two flagship locations. Basically, they act as culinary incubators. Every week, depending upon what the temperature is, what’s in season, and what’s inspiring us, we will offer unique products. What we started doing in 2019 is soft-serve machine takeovers where we’ll just blast a flavor that we’re really inspired by that feels super fun. For Valentine’s Day, we did a red velvet soft serve.
The lab is where we strive to understand the operationalized nature of things, to get customer feedback, to tease on social media, to play around with toppings. There’s always going to be the new moment that we’re trying to understand.
What do you think guests love about Milk Bar’s soft-serve options?
I think it’s the ability to go have fun. We always want to be the ones that are driving our own creativity, that are making trends for ourselves that speak to us, the brand, and the customer. We want things that obviously feel traditional in an Americana sense, but that is something that speaks to the child in everybody. Cereal Milk is a moment in time that allows you, even as an adult, to go back for a second. And, inherently, soft serve is a treat. When you come to Milk Bar and enter our world, it’s about taking a few minutes for yourself, feeling a moment of whimsy, positive energy, and strong vibes. We always try to make flavors that will speak to that.