Baskin-Robbins jumps into retail, tests online ordering

Baskin-Robbins is leveraging Dunkin' Donuts' digital strategy to build its own strong presence in the space. As part of that strategy, the ice cream chain plans to build a mobile app similar to its sister chain's, which was launched in August.

Bill Mitchell, senior vice president and chief brand officer of Baskin-Robbins, provided an overview of this and other efforts during parent company Dunkin' Brand's investor day last week. Below are three topic highlights from his presentation:

Digital efforts

Baskin-Robbins has surpassed the 6 million fan mark on Facebook and has the ninth largest engaged base in the industry. The chain has also grown its Birthday Club to more than 5 million members, with expectations for more through added technology platforms.

"We are borrowing some of Dunkin' Donuts ideas as well as the ability to launch into the digital space," Mitchell said. "The amount of growth in this space has been overwhelming."

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The brand is also currently testing online ordering, which Mitchell says, "gives us an opportunity to remind our guests of different occasions." The initiative is expected to eliminate some of the work now involved with ordering a cake; for example, a customer has to order and submit the occasion in person, then return to the location to pick up the cake within 24 hours.

Additionally, Baskin-Robbins is working on a tablet platform that will help the brand stand out from its competition, Mitchell says, by creating a virtual cake environment where customers can "plug and play" their creations for any occasion.

Cake technology

Mitchell said 75 percent of the brand's franchisees don't realize that cakes can be customized in 31 flavors with four formats within 24 hours. The company is working to improve its cake platform as a way to entice customers to trade up, and is pushing "cake technology," (moldings) at the unit level so options are consistent across the system. For example, the company ships domed cakes instead of having traditional artists in the back of the house. The dome platform has been used to add ladybug and purse options to its Mother's Day lineup.

"We're trying to make these products easier to execute for our operations team," Mitchell said. "We have the opportunity of not just celebrating the Mother's Days, but to sell products (such as) National Administrative Day and Boss' Day. These are things we'll continue to grow as we differentiate our cake business."

There are also more opportunities to capitalize on local occasions, such as baseball helmet designs.

Weather proofing the concept

Finally, Mitchell discussed how the brand is 'weather proofing' to maintain relevance beyond warmer months. This week, Baskin-Robbins launched a new line of shelf-stable, sherbet-flavored freezer bars that are rolling out at about 15,000 major national retailers throughout the country. Baskin-Robbins' Sherbet Flavored Freezer Bars are the first freezer bar treat from Baskin-Robbins that guests can purchase from supermarkets and drug stores.

The company partnered with Jel Sert, a leader in freezer bars, on the rollout of this new product as part of a licensing agreement. Each treat delivers two flavors in one freezer bar as a result of Jel Sert's patented technology. Each box has 12 Sherbet Flavored Freezer Bars available in Rock 'N Pop Swirl, a combination of grape and green apple flavors side-by-side; or Rainbow Sherbet, a combination of orange and raspberry flavors side-by-side. The freezer bars are shelf-stable and meant to be frozen at home.

"This is our first attempt at going into grocery and channel. In my opinion, clearly, this has clear superiority over the competition," Mitchell said. He expects their presence to reach 50,000 outlets.

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