The Cold Stone-Baskin-Robins Ice Cream War

At Cold Stone Creamery, customers can blend cookies, candy and other treats into their favorite ice cream — and people are lining up to sample the goods. But the success of the ice cream franchise has prodded Baskin-Robbins to update its image to maintain its longstanding popularity. Steve Goldstein of member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports.

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CHADWICK: Now, the ice cream business, where competition is heating up. In just a couple of years, Cold Stone Creamery has emerged as a power, challenging the ice cream juggernaut of Baskin-Robbins.

But, as Steven Goldstein reports from member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Baskin-Robbins is not about to give up.

STEVEN GOLDSTEIN reporting:

Walk into any ice cream shop in the country, and you're bound to find a lot of smiling kids. Coso Anos(ph) is almost seven years old, so he's a longtime connoisseur.

GOLDSTEIN: When did you first discover you liked ice cream?

Mr. COSO ANOS: When I was little. I think that at two, three years old.

GOLDSTEIN: On a recent Saturday afternoon, Coso tried a scoop at Cold Stone Creamery.

Mr. ANOS: I would like the chocolate and sprinkles, please, mixed up.

GOLDSTEIN: At Cold Stone Creamery, a basic chocolate ice cream becomes something quite different, with sprinkles, strawberries, or even gummy bears adding to the flavor. The mixing is on a more industrial level at Cold Stone's headquarters in the Phoenix Desert. Taste Master Ray Karam unwraps whole Twinkies, and plops the moist snack cakes into a blender full of cream.

Mr. RAY KARAM (Taste Master, Cold Stone Creamery): My philosophy is that no matter how weird the ice cream flavor is, someone somewhere will like it. I can guarantee you.

GOLDSTEIN: Like this new flavor: Twinkie Cream.

Mr. KARAM: There are so many things that we can do with ice cream. And we do sit around and kind of think up, hey, what about this, what about that? Americans love ice cream. They have an emotional connection with ice cream.

GOLDSTEIN: Cold Stone CEO Doug Ducey says his company's proposition to visitors is simple and straightforward.

Mr. DOUG DUCEY (CEO, Cold Stone Creamery): It's really a go to that customer and saying, who wants that 10-minute vacation, and how can we make that 10-minute vacation more special for the ice cream lovers of America?

GOLDSTEIN: Cold Stone Creamery has recently turned into a legitimate contender for title of champion of the ice cream business. In just the past two years, the company has doubled its number of stores nationwide, and sales have also nearly doubled to 283 million--second only to industry giant Baskin-Robbins, with sales of 535 million. But Baskin-Robbins has something Cold Stone Creamery doesn't.

Ken Kimmel is the brand officer for Baskin-Robbins, home of 31 flavors.

Mr. KEN KIMMEL (Brand Officer, Baskin-Robbins): I feel very privileged. I think we all do here, to work on a brand that's been around for 60 years. We enjoy 98 percent brand awareness in the U.S., which is phenomenal.

GOLDSTEIN: Kimmel's in charge of freshening up the company's image. That includes putting brighter colors and more kid-friendly designs in every one of Baskin-Robbins 2,500 U.S. stores over the next five years. He's also introduced a new sundae bar that will allow customers to actually see the whole order-making process, something that wasn't previously done at Baskin-Robbins.

Kimmel says Cold Stone hasn't forced the change. He said that's been customer driven.

Mr. KIMMEL: One thing that you see in any retail environment, or even packaged goods, is the constant need to keep your image fresh for your consumer. Today's consumers are smarter than they've ever been, and are expecting more from their favorite brands.

GOLDSTEIN: Howard Waxman has been writing about the industry for 19 years in the Ice Cream Reporter newsletter. He says Cold Stone Creamery brought something unique to the ice cream business by giving consumers the oppurtunity to order exactly what they want. And he says Baskin-Robbins is wise to follow that sweet path to success.

Mr. HOWARD WAXMAN (Reporter, Ice Cream Reporter): They're both very smart to have done what they've done in making the customized product right in front of you. It's entertainment, and it's customization, and they're very lucky, doing the right thing at the right time.

GOLDSTEIN: But like most kids would tell you, there's never a wrong time for ice cream, especially with a huge number of (unitelligible).

Mr. ANOS: White chocolate chip, chocolate chip, marshmellows, gummi bears...

GOLDSTEIN: For NPR New, I'm Steve Goldstein in Phoenix.

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