|The ice cream chain's Flavor of the Month campaign has helped boost restaurant traffic.|
DALLAS — Ice cream is cool again — at least, according to executives at Dunkin’ Brands, the parent company of Baskin-Robbins. A victim of the recent frozen yogurt boom, the purveyor of 31 flavors is celebrating its return to growth.
“We’ve been able to battle the yogurt people that are now dissipating from our world, and ice cream is becoming cool and in occasion again,” said Bill Mitchell, president, Baskin-Robbins U.S. and Canada, and Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins China, Japan and Korea. “There’s been a lot of recent news come through about ice cream is cool again. So we think we’ve already hurdled that same hurdle that we faced in the mid-80s.”
Mr. Mitchell dished on recent successes during the Canton, Mass.-based company’s investor and analyst day on Sept. 17 in Dallas.
Baskin-Robbins has seen a dramatic increase in transactions over the past year, crediting the growth to such programs as its Flavor of the Month campaign and a free waffle cone offer with the purchase of a second scoop.
“Flavor of the Month, which we’re rotating 12 new flavors; how are we doing that?” Mr. Mitchell said. “A lot of consumer research, listening to franchisees and also engaging the customer. So we have a flavor every year that a customer actually gets to design and the winning flavor that we promote. We’re getting a tremendous amount of social media around that, and so we’re going to continue to focus on bringing in new flavors, innovative flavors.”
|Baskin-Robbins' new on-line cake ordering platform is expected to increase transaction growth.|
A new transaction driver for the chain is an on-line cake ordering platform, which enables customers to customize a cake with a choice of flavors, shape and design, to pick up in a Baskin-Robbins store within 24 to 48 hours.
“A platform that we believe is transformational for our business, high-margin items and again, where I think this goes is, what’s next in e-commerce?” Mr. Mitchell said. “We believe we can blow out this platform to an e-commerce site, and eventually, we'll talk about how to get cakes delivered to the home.”
But back to brick-and-mortar…
Growing store count represents another area of focus for Baskin-Robbins. After shuttering a number of locations in recent years, the company is returning to positive unit development for the first time since 2006.
“We have touched every market, every piece of real estate,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We relooked at where should a Baskin-Robbins be. One of the key things that we found out in doing this was most of the store closures we had in past decades unfortunately were stores that lasted less than 24 months. And so you had to ask yourself why are new stores closing, and why are the older stores living?”
Poor franchisee support and site selection in many cases led to the premature closures. The company’s new approach to unit development is driven by market optimization, a mix of standalone and combination formats and attractive franchising offers.
|The company this year added branded frozen desserts in the grocery channel.|
Moving into the freezer aisle
The cherry on top of a fruitful year may be Baskin-Robbins’ entry into the grocery channel, with the introduction of licensed sherbet flavored tubes and ice cream pints and novelty bars in retail outlets. The packages contain “bounce back offers,” coupons that customers may use in the Baskin-Robbins stores. In developing the flavor varieties for the retail products, Baskin-Robbins resisted launching the best-selling classics in favor of its signature offerings.“Vanilla is too vanilla in the consumer’s mind,” Mr. Mitchell said. “When we put out things like Jamoca Almond Fudge, Cookies ‘n Cream, Pralines ‘n Cream, it’s top in class, above Ben and Jerry’s and above Häagen-Dazs. So we purposefully selected flavors that not only get people to buy, we can be top in class in the grocery, but then we get repurchase intent in our brick-and-mortar shops around the U.S.”