It's afternoon snack time at Northeastern University and a constant stream of students heads towards a vending machine with a cow on the front. They're here in the student center for hard ice cream made fresh on the spot.
On this day, it's free, because MooBella wants to stir up interest in what it calls an "ice cream shop on wheels."
Sales chief David Peters explains how the machine works: starting with using a touch screen flat screen computer to select a flavor and mix-in.
"It's taking all-natural dairy -- it's a liquid dairy mix, it's 100 percent all natural — it's aerating that and then adding in a shot of intensely-sweetened flavor," Peters explains.
"That's then being flash frozen — sprayed on a very thin layer and flash frozen on a rotating freeze plate — your mix-in drops down and then it scoops up the ice cream and then will come out in just under 40 seconds," he says.
In December, MooBella plans to plug in 100 machines like this one in cafeterias, museums and food courts around New England.
The Taunton company sees an opening in the market. While most ice cream is sold in supermarkets or convenience stores, because it needs a frozen distribution chain, Peters says the ingredients in MooBella don’t need to be refrigerated.
That means Moobella can go where other fresh ice creams can’t — like cafeterias. "In our data, about a third of the places we want to go have no ice cream today at all," Peters says. "None."
You won’t find a MooBella machine trying to compete in the same places as ice cream shops like Ben & Jerry's and JP Licks.
But "there's always room for more ice cream," says Lynda Utterback (note the spelling), with the National Ice Cream Retailers Association.
Utterback says mom-and-pop shops don't feel threatened, because who wants to take the family to a machine?
"The typical time that ice cream is sold in an ice cream store is in the evening, after dinner," Utterback says. "It's a lot of families who can walk or drive to the nearby ice cream store. It's kind of a family affair."
But MooBella wants to appeal to people on the go, such as college students.
Back at Northeastern, sophomore Joe Turano is trying the made-to-order snack. "It tastes like regular ice cream," he says. "It's a really cool machine, I've never seen anything like it. The cake batter's really good."
MooBella's premium hard ice cream has one-third fewer calories than other brands, because the ice crystals are microscopic, so it tastes creamy but with less fat. And you can make 96 different combinations.
But, sorry, no cones or sprinkles.
This program aired on November 16, 2009.