Can Yuengling's Ice Cream Make a Sweet Comeback?
Today, the name Yuengling is synonymous with beer. But David Yuengling--second cousin of brewery owner Dick Yuengling--wants to resurrect the family's old ice cream brand.
David's great-grandfather, Frank Yuengling, launched the ice cream business in 1920 to help keep the family brewery afloat during Prohibition. After many decades, the family eventually shuttered the dairy in 1985. But whenever someone started reminiscing about the old ice cream parlor in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, David, a computer consultant, would dream about reviving the business. In 2012, he finally decided to go for it.
“I spent 30 years in the computer industry and I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do something different, kind of like a mid-life crisis,” he says. “It was either a sports car or a company.”
After passing on the sports car, David requested permission from his cousin Dick to use the family brand. To David's surprise, Dick was very supportive of the idea, but they both agreed that David should run the ice cream business separate from the brewery, just like in the old days.
So David partnered with Rob Bohorad, a childhood friend and a “numbers guy” with sales and marketing savvy. At first, David and Bohorad sat down to examine the market. "What size should it be, where will it fit, what portion of the market are we going after? How long until we're profitable? Those things were all thought of," says Bohorad.
More than anything, they wanted the brand to convey Americana, down home and locally made. They certainly hadn't seen that in grocery stores lately. But mostly they wondered, “Who used to buy the product and how can we bring those customers back?”
David and Bohorad began holding test panels with consumers and speaking with people in the trade. What they found was a trend toward nostalgia. The Yuengling name was very recognizable, and consumers liked the idea of the ice cream being locally-made.
It dawned on David that he and his partner had plenty to learn about the ice cream business. Though he was knowledgeable in shipping and production, neither one had the faintest clue about how to sell it, except for, well, what it should taste like. They opted to hire consultants who could help draft a timeline.
David wanted to have the product on shelves by July 2013, but that was only six months away. He and Bohorad decided to quickly formulate the product, run a series of taste tests, and finalize flavors. The goal would be to wrap up the packaging by December, and go into production in January and February. The hope was that by March, they’d be ready to greet the spring thaw and start selling their product that summer.
After working with the manufacturer to produce a batch of flavors, David and Bohorad held panels at home. “'Is the mint chocolate chip minty enough? Do we need to increase that?' That was the process until we got to the point where we were happy,” says David.
The next stage was packaging. David wanted to respect the family tradition while also modernizing the classic Yuengling logo, which the brewery and ice cream had once shared. After reviewing historic marketing materials, David hired a designer to tweak the logo and create a cheerful color scheme. After reviewing 20 versions, he finally settled on a striking gold and white striped carton with Art Deco lettering.
Logistics were next. The team planned to roll out the ice cream in the Mid-Atlantic market, where Yuengling's brand recognition is strongest. If things took off, perhaps they’d go national. But for now, they’d stay closer to home. Though Boston reportedly has the highest per capita ice cream consumption in America, it wouldn't have made sense to launch where the name wasn't recognizable.
The process took much longer than David and his partner hoped: they ended up pushing back the launch date by a year. Yuengling's Ice Cream is slated to return to freezers in March 2014. David says he's not bothered. "We don't pretend to know everything about this business," he says. But he says he hired people who did--and ultimately realized that "there is a process you have to follow," which simply took longer than he expected.
The 10 new flavors won't contain any lager, but Black and Tan, made with Belgian chocolate and salted caramel, should serve as a reminder of the other family business and what Yuengling calls a lifetime of quality.
It may be a challenge to convince consumers that a quart of Yuengling's ice cream is worth the price tag of around $5 or $6. But the company plans to sweeten the deal by donating at least 3 percent of its profits to charitable organizations. For Yuengling, it's family tradition.
JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer
Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.