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Baskin-Robbins: A quiet renaissance?

When was the last time you heard anything about Baskin-Robbins ice cream in the news, the food industry or the pop-culture chatter? Can’t remember? Neither can I. But it turns out they’re still alive, and starting to kick again, after a serious popularity drought and a major makeover.

Is now the spring after their ‘winter of discontent’?…

Blame it on the recent fad for gelato, frozen yoghurt and other supposedly healthier, trendier treats. Good old ice cream has definitely taken a slide in the dessert ratings over the past few years. But it’s starting to come back – and Baskin-Robbins’ story is a prime example of how true classics always outlast the fads.

What happened?

For Baskin-Robbins, it was a double whammy: Not only was the frozen yoghurt fad coming on strong, but the ice cream chain’s parent company was concentrating its efforts – and advertising money – on expanding another of its holdings – Dunkin’ Donuts. Baskin-Robbins was more or less left to shift for itself. Over the next few years, B-R’s own expansion had ground to a halt and, between 2006 and 2011, it had closed more than 400 – or, one in every seven – of its stores. That’s usually a sign of imminent demise in the quick-service food sector.

But, during that ‘period of decline’, business at existing stores increased. That is, Baskin-Robbins actually sold more ice cream per store in spite of the apparent decline in business. Apparently, it all depends on how you measure ‘increase’ and ‘decline’…

Anyway… B-R opened a handful of new stores last year, the first since 2006. And signs point to further ‘improvement’ in its market position this year and in the future. So confident are B-R execs of a revival that they’re planning to add some new products to their 70-year-old classic 31-flavour menu and have committed to a program of facelifts for their retail outlets.

As this is written, upstart chains selling frozen yoghurt exclusively are still expanding, though their prices per serving are higher than most ice cream parlours’, including B-R, and their overheads are arguably higher than existing ice cream stores, as well. In my own city, I’ve seen yoghurt shops come and go over the past couple of years. Seems they can’t make it on yoghurt, alone. But that’s just my observation.

So what does it all prove?

Fads – like frozen yoghurt, cupcakes, fancy doughnuts and so on – may come and go, but the old classics never go out of style. Which is not to say that, if I was opening a new ice cream parlour this year, I would not have a frozen yoghurt machine on the line in there somewhere…

~ Maggie J.