Chef Sam Mason is the co-founder of EMPIRE Mayo, a now shuttered artisanal mayo-shop that had a 4 year reign in Brooklyn and owner of Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co. & Lady Jay's, a dive bar in Brooklyn. He joined us to discuss how seasonality plays out in the world of ice cream and his two shops.
Tell us about seasonality in the ice cream space.
My passport program has done wonders for cold months. Wholesale to restaurants, Whole Foods, and distributors also stays constant through cold months. Retail takes a hit, but then there are spikes observed for Thanksgiving where people load up on pints of ice-cream. Sometimes you have to create your own luck in terms of seasonality.
What are some of the drivers of seasonal products?
The excitement to see what’s new as most flavors have been done before. Any type of excitement you can generate with your customers helps drive new product ideas. It is natural to gravitate toward autumnal flavors in the fall, like a move toward maple. Same goes with spring when you see the berries. Inspiration is everywhere which translates into everyone’s psyche.
What are some of the cultural and societal drivers of seasonality?
The National Day Schedule, everything comes up so fast that you have to schedule them in. Award shows — it is always fun and a great way to sell ice cream to create with movie award themes — e.g. caramel popcorn.
We started the passport program where we produce passport-style booklets and each month focus on a different continent. November was North America, December was Europe, — so we got to focus on Christmas-y, things as well as Tiramisu — January was South America, and February was Australia. Passport also provides me with an opportunity to discover new flavor profiles that I’ve never heard of. Of our 18 flavors, only 4 are continent-based and several come out of Left Field – a chess game.
We have to create a perfect harmony as customers expect to see existing flavors along with some new engaging ones they haven’t experienced
Where or what do you get your inspiration from?
From markets and other chef’s menus, but the problem with that is things can be discovered too late. To generate the same level of buzz I would have needed to been promoting about that 4 weeks prior. With that said, forecasting is a big deal so post-summer I like to start thinking about what comes next and make it more of a protocol agenda point.
When most folks think of seasonality it’s normally in preparation of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; but when consumers, more specifically foodies, think of seasonality it is usually in anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes or breast cancer pink cookies. At Symrise we are constantly looking for ways to innovate and that means going beyond the scope of normal. It also means not only looking for inspiration within, but outside of the box — our box being the food and beverage space. To do that, we teamed up with Brand Genetics to interview eleven experts spanning several, very different industries to get their take on seasonality in hopes of guiding you on your path to being informed, inspired, and innovative.
The biggest takeaway from this series of interviews is that seasonality is about about novelty (think charcoal ice cream), flavor (pumpkin spice latte), functional benefit (plant-based everything), association (gingerbread cookies during Christmas), excitement (unicorn frappe), and priming (marketing). It is also a reflection of our world — weather, time of year, ingredients, locales, cultures, etc. Seasonality can be a good product development tool with the right balance of market curation and experimentation. At the same time, it can be expensive and hard to pull off without a healthy balance of change and stability.
This series is backed by our Seasonality Initiative where we help our customers develop pipelines of new concepts and flavor ideas for the seasons and major holidays. If you have questions or would like to learn more about our initiative please contact us.
Images courtesy of Odd Fellows Ice Cream (@oddfellowsnyc).