Everyone has a favorite ice cream or gelato flavor. Whether you crave vanilla, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan or rocky road, childhood memories of running to catch the ice cream truck or meeting up with friends at the local ice cream parlor have instilled a love of frozen treats in all of us. So when consumers have the option to top off a great meal at your pizzeria with a delicious frozen dessert, it’s hard for them to say no. “A good 75% to 80% of our customers come in just for our ice cream,” says Ajan Sathan, owner of Mario’s Ice Cream and Pizza (mariosicecreamandpizza.com) in Naples, Florida, which offers 30 ice cream flavors and the catchy slogan, “Where every day is Sundae.”
While you may not be striving for percentages like Mario’s, the numbers show there is a red-hot market for frozen desserts year-round, whether you offer three flavors or 30. So let’s explore how you can add a scoop or two onto each ticket.
To make your own signature gelatos, start by seeking out local suppliers for key ingredients. Milk & Honey, for example, supplies gelato to its sister restaurant Community Pie. Meanwhile, wholesale suppliers offer ready-to-serve gelato and private labeling options.
Ice Cream vs. Gelato
Mallory Strickland, general manager at Milk & Honey in Chattanooga, Tennessee, scoops up a serving of delicious housemade gelato.
When contemplating a frozen dessert to add to the menu, many pizzeria operators first consider the traditional and ever-popular Italian gelato. This rich and creamy taste sensation appeals to consumers seeking out something unique and gourmet. But crafting your own gelato can be an expensive undertaking. If you want to achieve the same quality of gelato that’s found in Italy, the investment in equipment could set you back more than $100,000, according to Taylor Monen, co-owner of Community Pie (communitypie.com) and Milk & Honey (milkandhoneychattanooga.com) in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “We worked with a chef in Bologna, Italy, to learn how to make authentic gelato and obtain our equipment,” Monen says. “When all of the equipment wouldn’t fit into Community Pie, we opened a satellite location, which turned into our sister restaurant Milk & Honey and now supplies all of the gelato to our pizzeria.”
If you have the equipment, or a supplier with the proper equipment, the flavor combinations are endless when it comes to Italian gelato. If you don’t have your own gelato making equipment, a number of vendors offer artisan gelatos and other desserts in ready-to-serve packages.
Additionally, private labeling and co-packing options are available so that you can still create your own distinctive gelato flavors even if you don’t make them yourself. And since relatively few restaurants offer gelato, enticing customers with special weekly flavors is usually easy. “I’ve created more than 400 recipes over the past two years,” Monen says. “We always have five or six flavors on hand at the pizzeria and have featured specials such as bacon or basil and cream.”
Ice cream, meanwhile, is also widely adored by the masses. Ice cream flavors can range from plain ol’ vanilla to some pretty wild extremes—think horseradish and foie gras—for those who want to become a true dessert destination. “We work with a local company that creates homemade ice creams,” Sathan says. “Some of the most popular flavors are salted caramel crunch with cashews, turtle cheesecake, cake batter, and Superman. We’re able to take requests and customize whatever customers like.”
Finding a Flavor Niche
With so many flavor possibilities, it’s easy for your frozen treat menu to get out of hand. To strike a healthy balance between pizza and desserts, consider offering a well-publicized but limited rotating flavor menu, which changes weekly and encourages dessert lovers to return to try more. “We offer a gelato trio option on the menu, which people like to share,” Monen says. “Between 25% and 50% of our customers order gelato after their meal.”
“We always offer vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and several kid-friendly flavors such as bubble gum or Scooper Hero, which is a fun red, blue and yellow ice cream,” says Maggie Brown, service manager at Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint (salandmookies.com) in Jackson, Mississippi. “Our most popular flavors are definitely Mint Chocolate Chip, Butter Pecan, Birthday Cake, and plain old vanilla.”
Sometimes your flavors will be dictated by your demographic, so pay close attention to who your customers are and what flavors they gravitate toward. “Naples is a big retirement town, filled with people who love to golf and go to the theater next door to our pizzeria,” Sathan notes. “Some of our most popular ice cream flavors and desserts are ones that our customers remember from their childhood—maple walnut, black cherry, root beer floats, soda floats, etc.”
The idea of sourcing local ingredients has never been stronger, and it doesn’t stop at ice cream and gelato. “We get all of our milk from a dairy farm about 100 miles from us,” Monen says. “We get eggs from a family farm in Chattanooga and chocolate from a Nashville chocolate maker, and we use local produce in our recipes. We’ve also created a popular gelato flavor called the Cold Toddy, which uses a local whiskey from Chattanooga to mimic a Hot Toddy cocktail.”
Can’t make your own ice cream or gelato? Talk to your local distributor to find a national or regional vendor who can provide the right flavors for you. Then pair them with pastries from a local bakery to show your support for the community and cross-promote with another business. “All of our scoop shop treats—brownies, pecan bars, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, and Cowboy cookies (an oatmeal cookie with nuts and chocolate chips)—are made at our sister restaurant, Broad Street Baking Company & Cafe,” Brown says.
Sundaes and splits are frozen favorites at Sal & Mookie’s
Marketing Your Meltables
One great thing about ice cream and gelato is that the cost to give out a spoonful here and there to drum up word-of-mouth is pretty negligible. Besides, rewarding people around town with a scoop of ice cream or a sundae is a fun and nostalgic way to draw people into the pizzeria. “We have great coupons that we give to schools and [fundraisers] for inclusion in goodie bags; we call it a ‘Sweet Treat,’ and it’s good for a single scoop of ice cream,” Brown says. “We also celebrate National Scoop of Ice Cream Day and other fun food holidays.”
Sathan agrees that marketing ice cream is easy when you involve your community (remember the old days of the ice cream social?). Mario’s offers free scoops for kids under three years old with an adult ice cream purchase. Customers can also receive 10% discounts for bringing in a movie ticket, and Mario’s gives dogs a free scoop of vanilla ice cream on Wednesdays. “We coordinate with our local churches and hand out free scoops of ice cream and business cards on Sundays,” Sathan says. “The people around here appreciate the personal touch; we even host Senior Sundays at the pizzeria wherein we invite seniors in the community for a meet-and-greet. They pay $5 for a sundae and beverage and get to meet new people.”
Monen says she uses social media to cross-promote the gelato offerings from Community Pie and Milk & Honey to fans while utilizing in-store menu chalkboards and signage to alert patrons to new flavor offerings.
Whether you decide to offer ice cream or gelato, don’t miss out on the opportunity to scoop up more sales with frozen treat options.
|4 Marketing Takeaways|
Give free servings of gelato or ice cream to small children with an adult purchase.
Host a Senior Sunday event, inviting local seniors over for an old-fashioned ice cream social.
Celebrate ice cream-themed holidays, such as National Ice Cream Month (July), National Ice Cream Day (the third Sunday in July) and National Ice Cream Cone Day (September 22).
Invent some offbeat gelato flavors and give them unusual names that will grab customers’ attention.