July 13, 2011: Artisanal Ice Cream

Some trends are specific, while others more broadly cover an industry or a group of people. And then there are times like now when a broad trend develops to “feed” a specific demographic. For the last few years we’ve seen what can best be described as “kid” food reimagined for adults.

Perhaps inspired by the cupcake phenomenon (and of course we must pay homage to Starbucks), foods like macaroni and cheese, marshmallows and even cotton candy have gone upscale and artisanal.

One of the most successful transformations involves my favorite food, ice cream. Actually ice cream is a lot of people’s favorite treat, which has contributed to its newfound surge in popularity. About three years ago ice cream trucks started cropping up in unusual places, carrying unusual flavors essentially designed for an adult palate.

Some ice cream entrepreneurs chose the retail route, taking to the streets in brightly painted, creatively named trucks-like New York City’s Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. That truck, featuring flavors like the Salty Pimp and the Bea Arthur, was so successful, the owners (two entrepreneurs) will open their first brick-and-mortar store any day now.

Another success story-also from New York City-is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, which started selling ultra-premium, exotic flavored (Red Currant and Giandujia) ice cream from a truck in 2008. By 2009 the young entrepreneurs (a married couple and his brother) boasted revenues of $900,000. The following year, they had a small fleet of yellow trucks. Now they’ve added three storefront locations as well.

There’s a lot of opportunity here. While the trend has really taken hold in New York, it’s likely your city isn’t saturated yet. Some ice cream entrepreneurs don’t roam the streets in trucks, but instead specialize in catering events and parties. And as the above examples show, you can skip the mobile concept altogether (though it is quite an attention-getter) and open a shop. Just take a look at some of these beautiful ice cream designs and flavors featured in New York magazine. I want to try them all-sigh!

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