Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Baskin-Robbins still exists? Really? Why?

We haven’t had Polar Vortex like the Midwest has had Polar Vortex, but we’ve had some pretty cold weather this winter. And this week we’re in big chill mode.

Even in the dead of winter, however, this is New England. So it’s ice cream season. (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire are all among the top-ten ice cream consuming states.)

We are fortunate, living here, to have access to good ice cream.

While Friendly’s and Brigham’s ain’t what they used to be, they still produce relatively decent ice cream. (Brigham’s Mocha Almond remains one of my favorite flavs ever. I’m also partial to Maine Black Bear, made by Gifford’s.) And, in addition to plenty of Ben & Jerry’s outlets, we have a number of excellent small chains – like Emack & Bolio’s and J.P. Licks. Plus one-off ice cream makers like Toscanini’s and Roncatore’s. And the gelato places in the North End.

So there’s really no reason at all, at all, to go to Baskin-Robbins.

In fact, even though I walk by it pretty much every time I’m in Harvard Square, I was surprised to find that there’s still a Baskin-Robbins there. Maybe the Harvard kids, who come from places where they don’t have much by way of good ice cream, patronize it and keep it alive… Make that Harvard freshmen who haven’t yet discovered what ice cream can taste like. Which is something a lot better than Baskin-Robbins, which – while I haven’t had a B-R in years – I remember from my travels as being rather gummy.

But apparently the real threats to Baskin-Robbins aren’t the availability of better ice cream. It’s mostly from the rise of frozen yogurt, and to lesser extent the decline in consumption among weight-watching Americans, that’s hurt Baskin-Robbins.

The number of U.S. outlets was 2,467 at the end of 2013, down from 2.872 seven years earlier. (B-R’s not the only one suffering. Cold Stone Creamery – another chain I’m not especially enamored of; I think the add-ins are too much of a shtick – saw it’s revenues decline by 15% last year.)

But 2013 did see a slight uptick for Baskin-Robbins, with four new stores opening. And there are plans for modest growth – an increase of five to ten outlets projected for 2014.

I had not remembered – if I ever knew – that Baskin-Robbins is owned by Dunkin’ Brands, which is a local company made good.

I’m something of a D-D fan, stemming from childhood, when Sunday morning meant a trip to Dunkie’s in Webster Square, where my father would buy a dozen, which grew to 18, which grew to two-dozen donuts to tide the family over until Sunday dinner. (It’s amazing that we didn’t all end up obese and diabetic.) I don’t have donuts very often – a couple of times a year – but I’m partial to D-D chocolate honey dip.

But what they’re doing with Baskin-Robbins…

In 2010, the company appointed new management and focused on improving operations and service through ongoing training programs. Baskin’s same-store sales were positive in 2011 and 2012. To refresh its image, it introduced a new store design last year with LCD menu boards and graphics on the wall. (Source: Business Week.)

Interesting that the focus was on improving operations, service, and graphics rather than on improving the quality of their ice cream, but I guess this is the American Way. And I guess it’s easy to be an ice-cream snob when you live in a place where good ice cream is the norm rather than the exception.

Meanwhile, while Baskin-Robbins growth has been miniscule, Dunkin Donuts continues on an “expansionist tear,” including a goal/belief that “it can eventually have 1,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations in California.”

In 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts opened 371 net new restaurants in the US and 138 net new restaurants outside the US, including restaurants in Greater London and Ho Chi Minh City, the company said. (Source:

Years ago, although we didn’t stop in, my husband and I were amused to stumble across a Dunkin Donuts in Budapest.

Still, Ho Chi Minh City seems a stretch.

Oh,  if I ever do get to Viet Nam, I’m sure I’ll be happy to see the familiar face of Dunkin-Donuts.

But coffee and donuts in such a hot country?

Not that I wish bad ice cream on them, but wouldn’t Baskin-Robbins make more sense?

No comments: