Building Baskin-Robbins into a retail powerhouse

by Donna Berry
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CHICAGO — Boardwalk Frozen Treats L.L.C., headquartered in Lafayette, Calif., is the exclusive licensee of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream brand for U.S. and Canada retail channels, and has been on the fast track since its inception three years ago. The company partnered with Dunkin’ Brands, the Canton, Mass., parent of Baskin-Robbins, to bring the iconic scoop shop brand and many of its flavors, such as mint chocolate chip and pralines and cream, to supermarkets nationwide.

Food Business News spoke with David G. Owens, Boardwalk’s chief executive officer, to better understand the company’s success story in what is one of the more competitive spaces in the supermarket: the frozen dessert aisle.

Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors
Boardwalk Frozen Treats partnered with Dunkin’ Brands to bring the Baskin-Robbins brand to supermarkets nationwide.

Food Business News: Baskin-Robbins’ origins date back to 1945. Why did it take nearly 70 years to get pre-packaged branded product into supermarkets?

Dave Owens, Baskin-Robbins
David Owens, c.e.o. of Boardwalk Frozen Treats

Dave Owens: The extension of restaurant brands into grocery stores is a relatively recent development, mostly in the past 20 years. The motivation is to build brand ubiquity and consumption in all channels where food is sold. Dunkin’ Brands had great success introducing Dunkin’ Donuts packaged coffee into grocery stores in 2007, so pursuing a similar strategy for Baskin-Robbins made sense.

Boardwalk Frozen Treats was selected to be Baskin-Robbins’ exclusive licensee in 2013, and shipments to retailers began in January 2014.

Why the 14-oz size, instead of a larger, more family-size container, or a more personal, single-serve cup?

Baskin-Robbins ice cream on retail shelves
Shipments of Baskin-Robbins brand ice cream pints to retailers began in January 2014.

Mr. Owens: The pint-type package is the fastest-growing size in the ice cream segment, with retail sales up more than 10% per year (on average) over the past 5 years. Every family member wants his or her favorite flavor, along with variety and portion control, and this size accommodates those needs. Thus, our initial focus was on this package size. We will introduce Baskin-Robbins frozen novelties soon, which will help us address single-serve opportunities. We also will continue to explore innovative packaging solutions.

The retail ice cream freezer is a crowded space. How did you convince buyers to take on the Baskin-Robbins line?

Mr. Owens: That’s where the power of the brand comes in. Baskin-Robbins is the world’s largest ice cream chain with more than 7,700 scoop shops, including 2,500-plus in the U.S. Brand awareness is 89% nationwide, among the highest among ice cream brands. When Baskin-Robbins pints are placed on grocery shelves, consumers immediately recognize the brand proposition. Baskin-Robbins is an all-family and all-American brand, and retailers understand the importance of appealing to that demographic. Baskin-Robbins spends approximately $25 million annually on marketing and T.V. advertising, which keeps the brand front and center in consumers’ minds and buyers appreciate that support.

Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop
Baskin-Robbins has more than 7,700 scoop shops, including 2,500-plus in the U.S.

Scanner data shows the brand has been a hit. What’s driving the success?

Mr. Owens: Thank you, we are very proud of our success so far. We have a terrific team of sales, marketing, service, operations and quality assurance professionals who work hard to please our retail customers and consumers. Scanner data shows our retail sales grew more than 90% in the first half of 2016 versus the same period in 2015, and we are authorized in more than 12,000 grocery stores. In just 30 months, Baskin-Robbins climbed to the No. 8 ranking among 200 pint brands and we are aiming higher.

The company recently grew the line from the original 15 flavors. How did the new flavors come to fruition? Were they scoop shop hits?

Baskin-Robbins 4 new ice cream flavors
Baskin-Robbins' four newest flavors are pistachio almond, salted caramel, peanut butter cup and Mom’s Makin’ Cookies.

Mr. Owens: Our guiding principle for new flavors is to remain true to the legacy of Baskin-Robbins while recognizing contemporary trends. Fortunately, Baskin-Robbins has more than 1,000 flavors in its library, so there is no shortage of options. Our four newest flavors are pistachio almond, salted caramel, peanut butter cup and Mom’s Makin’ Cookies. All four flavors were scoop shop hits as either long-term classics or featured flavors. We’ll introduce four more new flavors in 2017, giving us 23 in total.

What’s in the future for the Baskin-Robbins retail brand?

Mr. Owens: Our first priority is to continue expanding in pints by gaining distribution in more stores and adding more flavors in existing stores. We also intend to expand beyond pints into different product platforms and channels. We will soon be introducing Baskin-Robbins novelties, including ice cream sandwiches and bars, which will serve additional consumer eating occasions. We’ll also expand beyond supermarkets into other retail channels, including mass merchants, club stores, drug stores and convenience stores.

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