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The man who tastes up to 20 ice creams a day and still enjoys them at the weekend


February 03, 2023


Catherine Hubbard - Stuff.co.nz 19:00, Feb 03 2023

When he tells people that he tastes ice creams for a living, Ari Penberthy is used to the reaction.

Most people, he says, are surprised that ice cream developer is an actual job.

Penberthy tastes between 10 and 20 ice cream samples a day in his role as new product development and innovation manager for NZ Creameries, which has factories in Auckland and Motueka, near Nelson.

While his work day involves sampling an awful lot of ice cream, usually imbibing a spoonful of each, in order of intensity of flavour – beginning with vanillas for instance, and something strong like a peppermint last – he still has time for the treat on his days off.

“I do still love ice cream,” he says, “and I do still enjoy a cheeky ice cream on the weekend”.

His job involves coming up with ice cream concepts and developing them, and then developing a product that the team is happy with.

“We then scale it up and take it into the factory and run it on all the full scale equipment to make sure that it translates to full production well. And then once we've done that, we sign off the commercialisation and start the ball rolling.”

Penberthy keeps an eye on trends from an international network of suppliers, via Instagram by following international brands and having a look at what those in the Northern Hemisphere are doing in the “sweet space”.

The chocolate and dessert categories are also a source of inspiration.

Penberthy said “nostalgia” flavours – the pining for foods we ate growing up such as lolly cake – were among the current trends.

Premium ice cream was also really “popping” at the moment, in part because of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

“They’re not going out,” Penberthy says.

”So they’re willing to spend a bit more money on a treat for themselves.

Caramel and bakery inspired flavours are doing well, though the bestsellers are still vanilla – because it can be eaten with anything, followed by boysenberry and hokey pokey.

Personally Penberthy said his current favourites were caramel frappé and Belgian chocolate.

He believes Kiwi ice creams hold their own against global products.

”American ice cream seems to be quite overflavoured and sweet.

“New Zealanders are raised on a lot of dairy, and they're really passionate about ice cream as a result, and they don’t want to skimp on quality.”

Since graduating with Bachelor of Science (BSc) with Honours focused on food science from the University of Otago, Penberthy has worked with cereals, chocolate, “nutritious snacks”, nuts, confectionery, ice cream, and meat products such as sausages and meatballs.

”Every one of those experiences has made me really discerning,” he said.

You might think twice about serving him a cut-price sausage at a BBQ.

”The quality of the sausage is determined by the quality of the meat in there, and you can definitely tell when there is not a lot,” he says.

”Though I would never say anything.”

That Penberthy is discreet is evident when asked his opinion on Goody Goody Gum Drops ice cream flavour, which is being phased out, sparking the ice cream controversy of 2022.

He refuses to be drawn on the topic, despite my gentle probing: “I'm not going to have an opinion on that.

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