Srinivas Kumar, chief brand officer of Baskin-Robbins, said he expects nearly 10 percent of franchisees to convert their stores to the chain’s BR Express prototype.

Srinivas Kumar, chief brand officer of Baskin-Robbins, said he expects nearly 10 percent of franchisees to convert their stores to the chain’s BR Express prototype.

Looking to boost sales and broaden possible venues for expansion, Baskin-Robbins is testing a smaller and lower-cost version of its stores with plans to roll the prototype out in 2009.

Called BR Express, the 200-square-foot units are designed for use in on-site venues, such as airports and college campuses, as well as in shopping centers, said Srinivas Kumar, chief brand officer for the 5,800-unit ice cream chain.

In a departure from Baskin-Robbins’ traditional 31 flavors, the express units feature vanilla soft-serve ice cream, a menu item Baskin-Robbins introduced last year, with six to eight flavor ribbons available for mixing in on a rotating basis, as well as a variety of mix-ins. Menu prices range between $1.95 and $2.25 for a small cone or cup, compared to $2.25 to $2.50 for the same amount of hard-scooped ice cream. The chain’s signature beverages also are available for purchase.

“The category has been lethargic so we thought, ‘How can we make it exciting using 31 flavors while taking the complexity of dipping out?’” Kumar said. “That’s when the ‘wow moment’ came. We went into test 26 days after putting it on the concept board.”

The units are currently in test in New York, Florida and Wisconsin, with plans to target the Southeast, Kumar said.

Baskin-Robbins is not the only ice-cream-centric concept to roll out express units. In December, Wilbraham, Mass.-based Friendly’s Ice Cream Corp. said it would begin testing a fast-casual express prototype of its family-dining restaurants this year in Boston, Springfield, Mass., and Providence, R.I. The units will offer a reduced menu focusing on the core items served at the brand’s full-service restaurants.

Express units are a smart move given the current real-estate market, said foodservice industry consultant Malcolm M. Knapp.

“There probably are some opportunities in smaller spaces to capitalize on,” he said. “Ice cream is an impulse purchase that is grab-and-go and fits into high-traffic patterns. If you do it in the right place, you can capitalize on that impulse traffic and [score] high sales. It makes a lot of sense; it’s about getting the best return for the investment.”

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