BUST: A Timeless Ice Cream Brand Melts Street Fight

BUST: A Timeless Ice Cream Brand Melts

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Oberweis Ice Cream and Dairy was founded in 1927 and is an iconic Midwest retail brand. It recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is in the process of reorganizing. The company operates 43 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri.

While other ice cream brands thrive, Oberweis owes about $4 million to 20 creditors and announced that it will be laying off more than 100 employees. The company cites changing consumer tastes (towards plant-based and healthier options) and poor management decisions as the main reasons for its struggles.

So, how is the ice cream world doing in general? The number of U.S. ice cream stores is on the upswing, including MULO (multi-location) and independent brands. The total number of storefronts is estimated at 17K.

  • Ben & Jerry’s is currently the most popular consumer brand. Its distribution at retail stores, groceries, and C-stores, its ever-changing flavor variety, and its plant-based and low-fat alternatives have made it a long-lasting favorite. Founded in 1978, it is now owned by Unilever but has retained its funky brand personality and quality. It has about 200 Scoop Shops. It had more in prior years but is largely focused on retail distribution now.
  • Haagen Dazs was founded in 1960 and operated independently until 1983. It was then acquired by Pillsbury, which was then purchased by General Mills. Haagen Dazs has about 200 stores in the U.S.
  • Dairy Queen, Sonic, and Baskin-Robbins lead the pack in terms of the number of locations, each with more than 2,000 stores.

Ice cream and frozen desserts are here to stay, but shops and trucks are not the only way to distribute them. As the population ages and health focus increases, developing alternatives that match consumers’ food tastes becomes even more critical.

New technologies are also being applied to manufacture products and analyze consumer tastes. For example:

  • Unilever is developing in-freezer AI.
  • Data analytics help with inventory management and production volumes.
  • Automated trend-tracking can assist with the development of new, healthier recipes.
  • Baskin-Robbins has a test lab in Korea where AI creates new flavors.
  • Robotics are already being applied to create ice cream with mix-ins and to put the frozen stuff into cones.

So, you’re not alone, whether you’re a basic vanilla consumer or have a yen for booze-infused ice cream. The average consumer eats 23 pounds of ice cream each year!

We wish Oberweis¬†all the best in their restructuring efforts and again reinforce the importance of “thinking forward” in keeping a legacy brand alive.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in Inc.com, the New York Times and Forbes.