TIME Food and Beverage Industry

Custom-Order ‘Mix-In’ Ice Cream Chains Realize They’re a Rip-off

Executives in charge of two sister ice cream chains did a funny thing: They did some price comparisons in the field, talked to consumers, and concluded their “value proposition was out of whack.”

That’s according to Allison Lauenstein, vice president of ice cream brands at the Global Franchise Group, which franchises Marble Slab Creamery and Maggie Moo’s. Like competitor Cold Stone Creamery, Marble Slab and Maggie Moo’s have traditionally charged based on the size of the customer’s ice cream order. But that base price is one that customers almost never paid, because what makes these places special is the “mix-ins”: a wide variety of candies, cookies, and other ingredients that are mashed up into the ice cream on the spot, typically on a “marble slab” or “cold stone.”

The business model has called for each mix-in to cost extra, and the result is often that a cup of ice cream that customers might expect to cost $3 or $4 winds up being $6 or $7 because they went overboard on extras. The result is also that the word “overpriced” tends to pop up regularly in user review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Oh, and under very rare circumstances, an order can cost $29 because somebody just had to see what happens when you mix in every mix-in that can be mixed in.

Now, however, in the case of Maggie Moo’s and Marble Slab, reports Nation’s Restaurant News, this pricing scheme is disappearing. Instead of charging per mix-in, the sister chains are offering flat pricing between $2.99 and $5.99 based on size, and unlimited mix-ins are included. After testing the new pricing concept at 15 units, the two chains quietly introduced the changes in January, and they’re expected to start promoting it in March.

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Lauenstein explained to NRN that the change had been in the works for quite some time, and that it was motivated by declining sales and customer satisfaction. “We started to do some pricing research a little over a year ago, and what we found was that our prices were extremely high compared to our competitors for comparable products,” she said. The consensus among consumers, according to Lauenstein, was that the “value proposition was out of whack” for the treats offered at Maggie Moo’s and Marble Slab Creamery.

In other custom-order mix-in ice cream news, Canadian coffee-and-donuts specialist Tim Hortons just announced that it is ending a five-year relationship with Cold Stone Creamery that saw the ice cream brand sharing space inside the coffee shops. Soon, there will be no sign of Cold Stone inside Tim Hortons locations in Canada. Tim Hortons CEO chief executive Marc Caira explained why the decision was made in a recent conference call with investors. The performance of co-branded units “has been below our expectations,” he said, noting that “the fit was not ideal with our strategy of price, value and speed.”

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