Ice Cream Makes A Comeback -- For More Than Dessert

You scream, I scream, apparently we all scream for ice cream -- and not just in the afternoon and evening. 

As temps rise across the country, not surprisingly, so does traffic to ice cream QSRs. But according to a new report from foot traffic firm, as customers look toward “affordable indulgences” post-COVID, those in-store visits are increasing exponentially, and not just for a post-meal sweet.

The study, "Frozen Delights: Exploring Ice Cream Chains Across America," took a look at the top four ice cream QSR chains: Dairy Queen, Cold Stone Creamery, Carvel and Ben & Jerry’s. Across all brands, overall foot traffic reached a 4.5-year high in May 2024. 

Long considered a summer treat, ice cream traffic actually depends more on location than the season. “Visits to Dairy Queen locations in New York.. are highly driven by seasonality – with May foot traffic more than 300% higher than that seen in January.” Conversely, Dairy Queen locations in Florida, where the weather is more temperate year-round, saw more subdued summer visit peaks. Similar trends can be observed for the other chains.

So now that business is up, what’s next for ice cream QSRs? Perhaps opening earlier for breakfast traffic. The idea isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds. Even former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi revealed her love of ice cream as a morning meal, telling the “River Café Table 4” podcast, “I have it for breakfast. It's a great way to start the day,”

And Pelosi isn’t alone. Search any social media site for “Ice Cream for Breakfast”; the thousands of results, from morning ice cream tribute dance routines to preworkout sweet concoction recipes, have millions of views.

Some research supports eating the frozen dessert early in the day. A recent Seattle Times story on the very subject of ice cream for breakfast reported “according to Rupa Health, small indulgences release feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that boost happiness and reduce stress levels.” 

There are already breakfast-themed ice cream flavors making an appearance in shops, such as Baskin Robbins’ limited release of Breakfast in Bed, made up of of pancake-and-maple-syrup-flavored ice creams dotted with pancake pieces and blueberry compote.

And the officially unofficial designation of a trend has been bestowed upon the concept of ice cream for breakfast, with its very own holiday on the first Saturday in February.

So soon that coffee run on the way to work may just include a few scoops of Rocky Road on the side.

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