By Jason DeRusha

EDINA, Minnesota (WCCO) — Everyone has a Dairy Queen memory.

It’s where you went for the treat after the little league game or the dance recital. You’d get a Dilly Bar or Buster Bar, or post-1985, it’s been the home of the Blizzard.

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For the nearly 7,000 stores across the country, every treat on the menu has its origins in a nondescript office building in Edina, Minnesota.

“We develop the whole entire Dairy Queen menu, so this is like going to Willy Wonka every day,” said Mary Joyce, the vice president of product development for Dairy Queen. She’s part of a nine-member product research team at International Dairy Queen headquarters.

Joyce said she created the Banana Split Blizzard and the Treatza-Pizza.

“That was me,” she said. “It is pretty cool.”

For the last seven years, Dairy Queen has been trying to engineer a column of flavor in the middle of a Blizzard. Just this month, the Royal Blizzards started arriving in stores.

There’s a Royal Rocky Road with marshmallow, a Royal Cheesecake Blizzard with strawberries, and a Royal Oreo Blizzard with fudge.

“That fudge isn’t hot, it isn’t cold, it’s designed to be easy to eat and closer to room temperature,” Joyce said. “We can’t have it plop out, right? We need to keep it in the middle. But it can’t be too hard, because you don’t want them to chisel into it.”

The road to these Royal Blizzards involved more than 80 different flavor combinations. Dairy Queen even showed our cameras a new blizzard with liquid peanut butter in the middle. That Royal Blizzard won’t arrive in stores until 2017.

“We do a lot of consumer testing,” said Bill Barrier, the executive vice president in charge of global product development for DQ.

“The team develops a lot of great products, we have great palates,” he said. “But eventually we have to do research.”

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With Dairy Queen in 28 countries, including the Middle East and Asia, the test kitchen is a global flavor laboratory.

“We also have a lot of green tea that we use in Asia…even things like purple yam and red bean paste are some of the examples,” he said. “Typically, you’ll see a lot of mango in Asia. You may also see durian.”

The company has shifted its chocolate over the years to be darker, as customers want a darker, slightly more bitter chocolate.

While assessing trends, Barrier said, it’s important for Dairy Queen to consider if its costumers are ready for new trends.

Cocoa and chocolate ingredients are different around the world, so they try to account for those changes in their recipes.

“Now we’re looking at how can we push that chocolate to be a little more dark, that’s what everybody’s looking for,” Joyce said.

The biggest innovation out of the test kitchen of late has been the development of a small oven, the DQ Bakes program.

Now even tiny restaurants inside shopping malls can serve food. The Philly Cheese Steak will be new to DQ in the fall of 2016.

All of the food has to be good enough for sophisticated palates, but easy enough for employees of all skill levels to make.

One team is responsible for every menu item: It’s high pressure but great fun, according to Berrier and Joyce.

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“If you tell someone you work for Dairy Queen, be prepared for the next five minutes to hear what they loved as a kid,” Barrier said. “Our job is creating smiles and stories.”

Jason DeRusha