In 1885, long before homes boasted freezers or blenders and several decades before the advent of frozen dispensed beverage (FDB) machines, someone had the idea that an eggnog-like drink would mix well with whiskey. And for whatever reason, that person named the concoction a “milkshake,” resembling nothing like what constitutes today’s commonly held definition of a milkshake. But like most products, the beverage evolved over time and, with the invention of freezers and blenders by the 1920s, the formula morphed into the creamy delight generations have enjoyed ever since.
What’s also evolved over time is who pours out these ice cream drinks. Diners and drugstore counters became the iconic setting for milkshakes throughout most of the 20th century, but by the 1970s, fast-food chains became the go-to place to grab a quick shake. The 21st century, however, welcomed the convenience store channel to the milkshake game.
Incorporating ice cream-based frozen dispensed beverages seems like a natural transition for c-stores, building on the success of slushies. After all, customers are accustomed to popping into the neighborhood convenience store for a fruit or carbonated frozen blended drink. Adding ice cream-based dispensers stirs up even more reason for people to satisfy that specific craving at c-stores rather than making a separate trip to a fast-food drive-through or dealing with the mess of blending them up at home. That’s exactly why more retailers have expanded their FDB stations over the past several years. For example, f’real branded milkshake machines have been installed in more than 19,000 stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, per company data.
Of course, a cold milkshake refreshes on a hot summer day, but sales of this particular drink have proven profitable all year, and therefore, shouldn’t be marketed as a seasonal occasion. Industry research confirms what most of us already suspected: nearly everyone likes ice cream any day of the year, and the milkshake is just a drinkable form of ice cream.
Plus, milkshakes elicit fond memories, and that’s a great incentive to indulge—according to research from Mintel, more than 70% of consumers value products that remind them of past or childhood experiences. What’s more, the company also found that more than half of consumers associated ice cream products with a sense of comfort during the coronavirus pandemic. In other words, milkshakes are a feel-good purchase.
C-stores can capitalize on the nostalgic and indulgent characteristics of milkshakes. As people stop for fuel or other in-store items, signage of milkshake deals could tempt customers to satisfy that child-like craving, and churn up profits.