Londis Broad Haven in Haverfordwest is famous for its soft ice creams. The store is right on the sea front at St Brides Bay, in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and owner Sue Mock says people drive from miles away to come and sit in their car on the sea front, watching the waves while eating a 99.
Sue uses a Carpigiani machine. “The initial outlay was not cheap, but it does give us excellent profits,” she says. “Once you’ve had the training it’s really easy to use. There are some food safety issues, but as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Carpigiani’s 191 single flavour counter-top machine has a starting price of £5,200 plus VAT, but Scott Duncan, sales director at Carpigiani UK, points to the fact that an ice cream that costs 12p to make can sell for upwards of £1.50. “We can assist operators in creating a bespoke pricing strategy which not only meets their requirements but also fits with what would be expected in their area. With this in mind, profit margins vary depending on a number of aspects, including toppings, portion sizes and type of equipment being used.”
Duncan says that those convenience stores situated in tourist locations often see the biggest sales from soft-serve ice cream but, with the right marketing support and positioning, he reckons soft-serve can have a sizeable impact on the sales of almost any convenience store.
He’s a firm believer in the fact that ice cream sells itself, providing that customers can see it. “A highly visual display helps generate sales as customers will be encouraged to spend more once they see what is on offer. Offering an extensive range of toppings, such as flavoured sauces and syrups, nuts, chocolate and marshmallows, and having ice cream available in cone or tubs, all help entice customers and grow sales.”
Duncan’s views about making ice cream visible are backed up by Unilever research, which has found that by simply letting people know you sell ice cream could increase your sales by up to 15%. “Visibility of the cabinet, brands and products is what drives the sale and, in many cases, is what prompts the decision to buy an ice cream in the first place,” explains Faye Newman, senior category manager for Partners for Growth at Unilever UK.
“Make it clear to people passing your store, as well as shoppers in your store, that you sell ice cream by making use of effective POS material. Don’t hide your ice cream cabinet. Keep yours somewhere near the entrance or the till as this will prompt more shoppers to buy. Not having your cabinet in the impulse hot spot could reduce footfall to the ice cream fixture by up to 75% (SIG data).”
The Carpigiani machine is certainly a big draw at Sue’s store, but it isn’t used all year round; it gets turned on from February half-term and switched off after October half-term. “We still have people coming in disappointed when it’s not on,” says Sue, “but they take a Wall’s ice cream from the freezer instead. Magnum is the best-seller.”
She says these ice creams sell all year round: “Not in the same quantities, obviously, but when it is a nice bright Sunday afternoon and the world comes out for a walk then it flies out. And if it’s a really busy summer’s day we can sell about 25 cases a day - which is just enough to fit in one back-up freezer.”
Keeping up with such fluctuating demand could be tricky, but Sue has it sorted. “Even with our back-up freezer we don’t have enough freezer space to store enough ice cream from one Londis delivery to another, so we use a local supplier, Pembrokeshire Foods, which is prepared to deliver seven days a week.”
Ammo Bhdaal at Spar Auckley in Doncaster has an ice cream back-up plan, too.
“Blakemore is very good in keeping us stocked up. We now have two frozen deliveries a week - on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Before we just had one on Thursdays, which meant if we sold out at the weekend we had to wait.
“We could really do with a back-up freezer, but I will probably end up buying a walk-in freezer as we do a lot of food to go, and we could keep a back-up supply of popular ice creams in there.
“But for now, if we have a heatwave and sell out of ice cream on a Friday we’d nip to the cash and carry to get more lollies for the weekend.” Ammo says that doesn’t happen very often - just once or twice last summer.
Like Sue, Ammo sells ice cream all year round, but his range does change slightly. “Magnum sells all year round so during the winter months we fill the freezer with Magnums and Spar £1 multipacks.
“When the weather’s hot lollies sell really well, but it obviously slows down in the winter so we get rid of the impulse lines. Sales, especially of kiddies’ lollies, are non-existent in the winter so we focus on the Magnums and the family packs instead.
“We have two freezers - one situated at front, near the alcohol, and one further back in the shop. We sell the more adult lines such as Magnum and Häagen-Dazs in the freezer near the alcohol - it’s a good position and works well.”
Ammo says that Häagen-Dazs competes well with Magnum as an adult treat. “I think it’s because of the way these products are marketed - as an evening indulgence for women. But Spar does a good range of evening impulse ice creams, too - women might choose a glass of wine and a small tub of ice cream as a treat.
“The Spar products are very good; they have the look and feel of Häagen-Dazs and are a good cheaper alternative.”
When Convenience Store spoke to Ammo he had been talking to Blakemore about the new ice cream planograms, the new summer impulse lines and what they were advising him to stock.
“We used to have a Wall’s rep visit two or three times a year, but they don’t come any more and I really miss that,” he says. “We’re a bit limited for knowledge about new lines. For instance, I read in the trade press that Lyons Maid is making a comeback, but that’s all I’ve heard.
“Our range is based on what we think will sell. I’d rather receive some expert advice - some guidance on what the manufacturers think will be the best sellers. Luckily, we’re going to the National Convenience Show at the NEC and should be able to find out more there, but after that it would be good to hear from a rep. They could tell us what we should be stocking. They could say everyone is stocking x and it’s really flying out so you should be stocking it, too.”
Regarding Ammo’s interest in Lyons Maid, it seems R&R has expanded its Lyons Maid range specifically for smaller convenience retailers. As such there are cones, splits, choc ices, bricks and tubs, all priced to compete with own brand.
Meanwhile, Ian Miskimmin stocks Wall’s, the Spar brand and local Dale Farm ice cream in his Spar store in Ballyhalbert, County Down. He says there’s a market for all three brands, but his best-seller is Magnum. He adds that he can rely on his Spar supplier Hendersons to keep him stocked even in a heatwave.
A heatwave is obviously the thing that ice cream manufacturers and retailers hope for every summer. According to SIG data, if it’s a hot sunny day ice cream sales can increase by 60%. Sue keeps an eye on the weather via the BBC website so she can be as prepared for the sun as possible.
“The sun is still the biggest motivator for ice cream sales,” points out Andrew Howard, managing director of Beechdean Ice Cream. As for weather data, he says: “You can spend a lot of money on buying in data but it can all go out the window because there’s no rhyme or reason to our weather. We therefore try to hold a sensible amount of stock. We aim to hold six weeks-worth of stock and we never run our facility to capacity so we are able to cope with increases in demand.”
Finally, Unilever’s Newman advises retailers to be prepared, come rain or shine: “While you can’t control the weather, you can make sure that you are in the best place to maximise sales when the sun does come out by planning ahead. Keep up to date with the latest forecast on the Partners for Growth website, or look out for the Twitter communications throughout the season.
“Knowing when good weather is likely to arrive will help you manage your orders, ensuring you’ve sufficient stock in to meet the rise in demand.”
Staying local can pay off
Stocking a locally-made ice cream can add a point of difference to your range and help you to stand out from your competitors. That’s the view of Sally Newall, founder of Simply ice cream in Kent.
It has a lot of fans; indeed, one Facebook fan said: “You have not tried ice cream if you have not eaten Simply… indulgent, delicious, addictive and Simply… amazing”. And the ice cream is so good that it’s now stocked in 126 Waitrose branches nationwide.
Newall says more and more people want to know where the food they are eating comes from, how it’s made and what’s in it. She adds: “Up-selling a product is more easily achieved when you have a story behind the brand that you can shout about.”
Obviously an upmarket local brand won’t suit every store. “We developed brand guidelines a few years ago which help our sales team identify retailers that suit the brand. We are keen for everyone to try our ice cream, but we know that not every type of retailer will be successful with it. If you are predominantly a budget shop the price point isn’t going to sit well with your consumers.”
But discerning consumers are willing to pay for a quality product: “When you are spending £1.80 on a Cornetto these days, paying a little extra and getting a pot of something that is handmade, using only natural ingredients that are sourced locally with real fruit and homemade additions, is worth it,” asserts Newall.
Simply’s best-seller from the start was, and still is, honeycomb crunch. A 500ml tub of this retails at about £4.99. “Vanilla, strawberry and chocolate are always firm favourites, but we also find that the demographic of an area plays a huge part in the choices retailers make for our special range, which now consists of 28 flavours. Stem ginger & marmalade, rum & raisin and coffee ice cream sell well to an older demographic, whereas mint choc chip, mango, lime and passionfruit, raspberry and so on sell well with a younger crowd. People are always keen to try new flavours and you often find that alongside a vanilla they will have a special flavour in their baskets.”
The firm offers a range of freezers, all of which carry the brand’s distinctive angel wings logo. “We sell these at cost. If you get in quick at the beginning of the season we do usually have a limited number of freezers that can be leased,” says Newall.
Big names prove a big draw for all ages
If you want to compete with the major players in the ice cream market, then you need major brands. That’s the view of Andrew Howard, managing director of Beechdean Ice Cream, which offers some of the biggest licensed ice cream lines available, via its partnerships with the likes of Warner Bros Consumer Products.
“These lines have been a great way of getting out into the marketplace,” he says. “Warner has products in different categories and very stringent guidelines that have to be followed, so if you see their logo on an ice cream you know it will be a quality product.”
Beechdean is enjoying great success with its Scooby-Doo franchise. You may remember watching Scooby-Doo as a child, but the show is still going strong and the brand is consistently ranked as one of Warner’s top-sellers.
Coming to freezers this summer are two new Scooby-Doo ice lollies - lemonade and bubblegum flavour - in an 80ml size, rrp 30p. Meanwhile, the three-strong range of Scooby-Doo premium handheld ice creams - chocolate, honeycomb and white chocolate & strawberry snack - are still available, rrp 90p.
In addition, Beechdean is introducing its first-ever licensed take-home product - Scooby-Doo 1ltr vanilla tub. Rrp £1.75.
SpongeBob SquarePants is another globally recognised character, seen in more than 170 countries worldwide. Beechdean has a SpongeBob SquarePants 110ml tub with a spoon in the lid. Rrp is £1.20. Made with fresh milk, the product is 95% fat free as well as free from artificial additives, preservatives and colourings.
Then there are The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles products. There are two ice cream split products featuring the cartoon family, in raspberry and strawberry flavours, rrp 90p. While the Turtles feature on a 65ml ‘X-Treme’ ice lolly, rrp 70p.
Finally, aimed at a slightly older audience, there’s Beechdean’s collaboration with the Jelly Belly Candy Company, creator of the gourmet jelly bean. This has resulted in two impulse ice lollies inspired by the Jelly Belly flavours orange and cotton candy. Rrp for these is 80p.
It’s not all about ices on a stick when it comes to cashing in on this category, though. Ice poles present a significant profit opportunity to complement ice cream sales during the spring and summer months. So says Jonathan Summerley, purchasing director at Hancocks Cash & Carry.
“While supermarkets sell multipacks of these products, the independent retailer can pick up all of the impulse and pocket-money trade by selling them ready frozen and as single lines.”
He adds: “The volumes can be huge, as are the margins, and ice poles can be a strong draw to your shop.”
Hancocks sells a number of ice poles, including brand leader Mr Freeze, which is available in two sizes.
“This should be a first consideration for any retailer offering ice poles, due to the huge awareness and demand for the product,” says Summerley.