Convenience stores entice customers with ice cream and other cool novelties this summer.
By Michele Wojciechowski, Contributing Editor
Few Things top off a scorching hot day better than ice cream. While c-stores sell the sweet treat and other frozen products all year, summertime is the top occasion to capitalize on consumers’ appetites.
It’s not surprising that ice cream sales increase during the summer, and June is the highest ice cream production month, according to Peggy Armstrong, vice president of communications at the International Dairy Foods Association in Washington, D.C. “Production remains strong through August to satisfy summer demand,” Armstrong said, referring to when U.S. demand is high.
How does that translate to c-store sales?
“During the summer, Corner Store ice cream sales improve by approximately 40% over the rest of the year,” said Pat Fitzpatrick, director of category management, CST Brands Inc., San Antonio. CST owns and operates more than 1,900 c-stores in 25 U.S. states and six Canadian provinces, including its Corner Store flagship brand.
It takes more than summer heat to sell ice cream and other frozen goodies, though. According to Fitzpatrick, to increase ice cream sales, Corner Store focuses on additional promotional activities during the summer, supports more manufacturer’s coupons, offers more two-fer opportunities and creates values on larger packages—such as half gallons of ice cream—closer to major holidays like the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
To celebrate National Piña Colada Day, Corner Store c-stores ran a special offer for its largest “frozen treat,” giving away free Icees this past July 10 to any customer in the store between the hours of 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. “Piña Colada flavored Icees were a big hit,” said Fitzpatrick.
In the Keystone State, Rutter’s Farm Stores, which has 60 locations throughout central Pennsylvania, also increases its promotions during the summertime.
“We include ice cream treats in our annual Summer Sweepstakes. Customers who scan their Rutter’s Rewards cards or use their VIP credentials while purchasing any qualifying promotional item earn entries into the contest,” said Robert Perkins, vice president of marketing for Rutter’s. “They can win thousands of prizes, such as free gas for a year or a 2015 Ford Mustang.”
Ice cream treats like Ben & Jerry’s pints, Edy’s 48-ounce and f’real milkshakes, as well as novelties Rutter’s sells, such as Magnum Ice Cream Bars, Mrs. Fields Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches and Good Humor King Cones, are all items that earn customers entry into the company’s annual “Summer Sweepstakes.”
In June, Rutter’s Farm Stores partnered with f’real milkshakes to present a “f’real Happy Hour” to patrons. Each of its 60 locations hosted a Happy Hour event, and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. customers received free f’real milkshakes, smoothies and frozen cappuccinos. This July 5, the stores were chosen as stops on f’real’s Ridiculous Road Trip as, under the f’real Road Trip Ambassadors program, the c-store gave out free f’real milkshakes and other summer giveaways to Rutter’s customers.
“Novelties seem to have the biggest lift in summertime,” Fitzpatrick said. “They are synonymous with fun and the on-the-go outdoor lifestyles that our consumers enjoy much more this time of year.”
A few years ago, the International Dairy Foods Association surveyed members about the popularity of novelty treats. They found that ice cream sandwiches were the most widely produced and sold, according to 91% of the companies surveyed.
In the c-store channel, novelties translate to summer sales.
Corner Store locations offer Drumsticks, Ice Cream Sandwiches, Snickers Ice Cream Bars, Dibbs, Twix Ice Cream Bars, Wonka Push-Ups, Haagen Dazs Ice Cream Bars, Magnum Ice Cream Bars and Nestlé Crunch Ice Cream Bars, among many others. Last year, CST added another novelty to its larger c-store locations—Dippin’ Dots ice cream brand. Common to amusement parks and other similar alternative venues, Corner Store has launched the popular treat at select locations with measurable success.
“We added Dippin’ Dots to our mix in 2014 to stores large enough to accommodate the required specialty equipment and with high enough customer counts to support an additional program in the category,” Fitzpatrick said. He added that the unique nature of the Dippin’ Dots product added differentiation for Corner Stores’ newer, larger locations, as it wasn’t an “every store program.”
In stores with Dippin’ Dots, they placed a specialized freezer display case—regulated to 40 degrees below zero, near the front door. Because it is still a fairly new offering, CST wants customers to see the cooler when they first enter.
The c-store hopes that the display drives customers to purchase other frozen treats. “Novelty floor cases are placed in high-traffic locations in the front of stores and routinely have static cling signs on the view windows promoting various products,” Fitzpatrick said. “And our larger stores dedicate two full, upright freezer doors to the display of both premium ice cream and novelties, which give a more impactful presentation than floor cases.”
Rutter’s Farm Store locations sell individual novelties and popsicles such as Jack & Jill Chocolate Éclair Bars, Nut Cones, Ice Cream Sandwiches and Fudge Stix, as well as Klondike Bars, Choco Tacos, Twix Ice Cream Bars, Snickers Ice Cream Bars and Philadelphia Water Ices.
Even though Rutter’s novelties sell well in the summer, the stores still works to draw customers to snack placements.
“We use in-store signage, like window signs, that ‘call out’ all of the qualifying items in the Summer Sweepstakes. We use door clings on the cooler doors that are home to the qualifying ice cream treats,” Perkins said. “We also call out these items at the counter using a counter mat insert that changes as the items included in the summer promotion change. We have signage at our gas pumps to inform customers at the pumps of the items they can purchase in our stores to earn entry into the Summer Sweepstakes.”
During the summer, it may be all about the ice cream. But really, it’s all about generating in-store sales.
“In the convenience store environment, where we primarily focus on immediate consumables, it is surprising to see how much take-home ice cream (half gallons, etc.) we actually sell during holidays—whether summer or winter,” Fitzpatrick said. “This often complements and enhances the market basket with various traffic building take-home grocery products where we offer great value on such items as gallon milk, bread and eggs.”