Blue and Pink and 31… the key elements that make up the Baskin Robbins logo is a symbol etched to our minds bringing back happy memories, a sense of nostalgia, and a strong craving for ice cream, especially now as we walk into the scorching hot summer months. As the world’s largest chain of ice-cream specialty shops celebrates the opening of its 1000th store in the Middle East at Dubai Hills Malls, we caught up with Michael Haley, President and Managing Director of International for Inspire Brands, a multi-brand restaurant company whose portfolio includes nearly 32,000 Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’, Jimmy John’s, Rusty Taco, and SONIC Drive-In restaurants worldwide.
Operated by the Galadari Brothers in the region, the success of Baskin Robbins can be attributed to a careful balance it has managed to strike between legacy and innovation. As a result of its ongoing commitment to bringing the best products and experiences, the brand witnessed record sales in 2020-21 despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic. How? While most other markets that the brand operated in were skeptical about online delivery of ice creams, the Middle East wasn’t just ready but was also capitalising on the opportunities of getting ice creams delivered even before the pandemic.
“When I joined Inspire about a year ago, I learned that between 20-30% of our sales is delivery. I also realised that it wasn’t just about getting a cup of ice cream, it was getting the ice cream experience delivered – it could be a pie you can have for days, or cups, cones, toppings, flavours etc.” said Michael.
“One of the reason why Baskin Robbins performed well during Covid-19 is that the team had the vision and insight years before to start delivery. We do that in partnership with Galadari and third-party aggregators as we need to have an ecosystem that works for all of us,” he added.
While aggregators and restaurants might have a love-hate relationship today, Baskin Robbins functioned on the principle of being where its customers were. If that was on its e-commerce websites, social media, whatsapp, or on delivery platforms, the brand made sure it was where its customers wanted it to be.
“In the U.S, we don’t have the delivery business like we have in the Middle East. The accessibility is quite different. We have more products outside of the Baskin Robbins stores, in supermarkets, convenience stores etc.” he said. “The common theme though is people and families coming in together to celebrate. It’s hard to eat ice cream and not smile. We also have products in the region that we don’t have anywhere. So while the products vary, the experience is consistent.”
However, providing a consistent experience in-store, online and at home is something that a lot of retailers have struggled with. “Packaging, which people might not have thought of before, is now part of the brand. I think communication is more important than ever. Innovation of flavours is a key factor, where we are experimenting with new flavours showing the willingness to continually evolve,” he explained.
Baskin Robbins has grown from offering 31 flavours of ice cream (as reflected in the logo) to over 1400 flavours, responding to the demands of the ever-evolving customers. Today, the brand also offers vegan ice creams in order to be inclusive of all kinds of needs by the varied customer base it caters to.
“We use data to grow the business and meet the needs of our consumers, and not manipulate it. We are learning how to use data across loyalty programmes and our promotional activities to make our proposition attractive,” he said.
Today, consumers have a lot of choice in an over competitive retail market and these choices are more accessible than ever. It is therefore important for a brand to be relevant and innovate constantly when it comes to its flavours, service, and even store design. The brand had unveiled its fresh concept store design a few years back complete with contemporary décor with bright colors to spark joy, an expanded row of modern and sleek glass cabinets, colorful wall mural that features interactive artwork, and upgraded digital menu boards.
“We tested our design with consumers. It has elements of fun and premium and showcases the tipping cabinets with mirrors in the ceiling that helps children see better, overall making sure it’s a warm and welcoming environment that showcases the ice cream as centerpiece,” he said.
The brand Baskin Robbins also benefits from being under the multi-brand restaurant company, Inspire Brands, and its master franchisee for the region, Galadari Brothers, as it helps in sharing the learnings and experiences from other brands in order to help elevate the overall retail experience for customers.
“Paul Brown, the CEO and co-founder of Inspire had the vision to have a portfolio of brands in the restaurant space and bring technology into this portfolio. The idea was to reach different consumers and learn from each brand and collectively we can be stronger than we are individually. A little over a year ago, Inspire acquired Dunkin’ and Baskin Robbins. Both these brands gave us a lot of knowledge, scale, expertise, and great partners across the world. We are now a portfolio of more than 9,000 restaurants outside the United States and 40 years of Baskin Robbins just in the Middle East with 1000 restaurants in the region. We are able to tap into and leverage the things that are happening all over the world with our consumers and business partners and draw that in to different regions,” he concluded.
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