Baskin-Robbins has had 31 flavors of ice cream for decades, but until recently it’s only had one kind of store. In an increasingly splintered consumer marketplace, the Canton-based ice cream chain now is hedging its bets. It’s trying out two new store concepts designed to appeal to value-conscious customers and more of an upscale demographic.
The latter concept, called Cafe BR, is getting a test run at Patriot Place in Foxboro. Baskin-Robbins is using the store as a proving ground for menu novelties such as ice cream bombes and chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick.
The roots of Cafe BR trace to 2005, when the original concept store opened in Seoul, Korea.
“We came up with the cafe and people started socializing in our place to escape the harsh realities of the world,” said Srinivas Kumar, Baskin-Robbins’ chief global brand officer. “That’s how treat stores survive. Last year we said, ‘Why not bring it to the U.S.?’”
The cafe sells coffee and milk shakes, sundaes and specialty desserts. Most items cost $4 to $7, with top-end desserts such as chocolate fondue served with ice cream, cake and fruit selling for $11.99.
A ceiling-mounted projector shines the Baskin-Robbins logo around the room, and fuchsia walls are illustrated with dessert-eating characters. There’s a make-your-own-sundae bar where patrons can choose from a dozen toppings.
“It’s fun. It looks like what we think an ice cream shop should look like,” said Jane Wheeler of Foxboro, who bought her kids soft-serve ice cream cones during a weekday visit.
The high-end BR Cafe concept makes sense at locations such as lifestyle centers which tend to have numerous restaurants nearby, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based restaurant consultants Technomic. Industry research indicates that given the opportunity, people are likely to eat dessert at a different location than they have dinner.
While Baskin-Robbins experiments with high-end concepts, it’s also taking steps to rejuvenate its franchise growth with a new low-cost store model.
Baskin-Robbins has a strong international presence, with 6,000 stores spread among 35 countries, but its U.S. store count has been stagnant for much of the decade. At least 2,600 of the chain’s shops are in the U.S.
Earlier this month, Baskin-Robbins began soliciting franchises for its BR Express concept. The smaller stores were designed with today’s harsh economic conditions in mind.
BR Express stores will specialize in soft-serve ice cream available in unusual flavors such as pralines and cream and toppings such as “magic sprinkles” that change colors.
Read more at: Patriot Ledger