In Focus
EXECUTIVE INSIGHTS | Kevin Santos, Australia

Ben & Jerry's is starting to develop an appetite for franchisee-operated dark kitchens

National operations manager Sean Farrell also shares details on how digital will elevate their Scoop Shop experience.

Franchisee-operated dark or cloud kitchens - locations that sell exclusively via delivery and offer no physical dine-in experience - may play a significant role in Ben & Jerry’s future in Australia and New Zealand.

“We're in lots of different conversations that excites us [about] this opportunity. I'd like to try to work it in with a franchisee so they get an extra boost to their sales...once it's a proven model,” national operations manager Sean Farrell told QSR Media in an exclusive interview.

The chain intends to prove the model first by operating it themselves, whether it be in a warehouse or a location near a city centre. Once they do, Farrell said they could then offer it to the nearest franchisee to potentially take it over and run that themselves as a satellite store.

“That way, we've got somebody who knows the brand loves it, cares for it, knows how to deal with the operations and make sure the ice creams are in the best condition. That's kind of how we see it working,” he said.

This will be a first for the brand in ANZ, but integrating the dark kitchen concept is not new to the hard scoop ice cream brand itself, already having similar concepts in South Korea and other parts of Asia.

Another off-premise opportunity they are looking to explore further is catering, a channel they were able to launch before being forcibly put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had some big numbers expected for it. But bringing big groups of people together is probably not right at the moment. We're seeing that this is already working in other markets.We can move fairly fast, we've got the systems in place,” he said.

Ben & Jerry expects to open up to 10 stores in the next 18 months. Photo: Supplied

Elevating the Scoop Shop experience
Delivery played a critical role in Ben & Jerry’s sales mix, especially during the height of the restrictions. Farrell hopes to seek a balance and bring more profit to their traditional locations - dubbed Scoop Shops.

“Every time we're training customers to have the easy option - order[ing] off of X or Y aggregator and it will be delivered to your home - we are losing a significant slice of the pie of profitability. And so at some stage, we're going to have to pivot back and try and get some of those customers to come back into the store,” he explained.

Farrell sees their click & collect service, the rollout of digital screens and upcoming gamified experiences as a few opportunities to bolster their Scoop Shop formats.

“We had a little bit of our Ben and Jerry's version of Pokemon GO, they were going out there collecting shakes, and sundaes, and scoops, which was pretty cool. We had another plan for that this year. But it wasn't the right time to be here, we'll be running around during lockdown. And so we'll push that back at some stage,” he revealed.

Partnerships with other QSRs are also in the works, with Farrell stressing they collaborate with ones that can grow together in terms of brand equity or social alignment.

Opening 10 stores over next 18 months
Farrell said the ice cream chain may open up to 10 stores within ANZ over the next 18 months, seeing this as the best approach to franchise profitability and considering the impact the pandemic has done to their network, especially in tourist areas.

“We don't want a Ben and Jerry's in every corner. This is what makes it really cool. We only want Ben and Jerry's Scoop shops in areas that will give really good bang for buck for our franchisees...We're not here just to make lots and lots of money. We're here to do the right thing by everybody. And we can only do that by being in the right places with the right plan.”

Franchisee support was done on a case-to-case basis. Royalties were waived and extended payment terms were given, along with links to specialists. Franchisees were also assisted to fix what Farrell described as “lopsided” relationships with their landlords.

“We were very lucky that we had good, good relationships with them and could challenge them a little bit harder. And they can understand that this isn't a global brand with buckets of money paying for these franchisees [but] as individual[s who have] to go buy shoes or buy food for their famil[ies]. I think that helped to hammer things home.”

Whilst Farrell expects a tougher retail environment in the next 12 months, he said there are long-term leasing opportunities for franchisees willing to spend.

“I do expect further failures in retail. What we do need is the landlords to come to the table a little bit more, to have a bit of a longer term view on where we're going to be. And we need brands to be sensible on what they're doing,” he said.

“It's a good time to get into franchising, but just pick and choose the right ones, do your due diligence and find ones that go the extra mile.”

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