“Our ice cream is designed for kids, but really more than that it is designed for the 7-year-old inside of the 47-year-old. It is a way to transport people in an instant to that feeling of unfettered joy that is often hard to find as an adult, but is around every corner when you are a kid. And the way we do that is being a playful, whimsical ice cream that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” company co-founder Brian Smith told FoodNavigator-USA.
One of the main ways that Ample Hills delivers its mission of inspiring memories and creating a sense of nostalgia is through fanciful watercolor cartoons on the packaging that depict narrative stories around each flavor.
But the typical round pint packages that Ample Hills – and most other ice cream manufacturers – currently use was limiting how the brand could tell its story, Smith said.
“On a round pint, you have ultimately one surface that moves around the container. But on a rectangular pint, we now have multiple surfaces or panels to better tell and illustrated story through time – kind of like an illustrated children’s story book or comic strip,” he explained.
“The whole goal is to trigger an emotional response in somebody who is reading it or seeing it and some memory of their own comes to the surface,” which they can share with their friends and which “informs a stronger connection to the brand,” Smith said.
And while the brand has a trio of its own beloved mascots that appear in illustrations on its current circular pints, the inaugural square pints will feature someone with a little more star power: Mickey Mouse.
Beginning in September, Ample Hills will have three special edition flavors featuring Mickey on the packaging as a way to celebrate the cartoon’s 90th anniversary and as part of Disney’s larger Mickey The True Original global campaign announced earlier this year.
The trio includes Triple Chocolate Surprise, which features Mickey-shaped white chocolate pieces, Confetti Celebration, on the package of which Mickey is waving a magic wand, and Peanut Butter Jamboree, which features Mickey and Minnie on each side of a robot and cake.
A nod to the past
The square shape also pays tribute to the original rectangular paperboard pints that were available in the 1930 and ‘40s, but went out of style for a variety of reasons – including the fact they were messy.
“Our brand is all about this time machine and nostalgia and wanting to use that older shape, but bring it back in a modern way,” such as by replacing the paperboard with dishwasher safe plastic that allows consumers to reuse the pints or recycle them when they are empty, Smith said.
And finally, the square shape recalls the premium that the brand places on having “four walls” at each of it is brick and mortar stores, where is strives to create meeting places for the community to come together, Smith said.
“The heart and soul of the brand is caught up in our four-wall shops and so we wanted the container ultimately to look and feel like a little house or building where people come together,” Smith said.
The square shape is not the only factor that makes the pints unique
He explained that retaining that community-building aspect was so important to the brand that when it launches the square pints they will feature not one, but two reusable plastic spoons tucked into the lid to encourage sharing.
“When we talked about launching into retail we were very worried that we would lose that sense of community that you have when you come to one of shops to play and eat ice cream. So we hit upon the idea that a pint is something to share and if we give people two spoons they will be encouraged to sit down with someone and recreate that community while sharing the pint,” Smith explained.
For all the fanciful reasons for launching a square pint, the move also has a very practical purpose as well: it helps the brand standout on shelf better next to all the other round pints, Smith said.
New factory exponentially boosts efficiency
The distinctive packaging may give the brand a leg up at retail, but it also create a manufacturing headache for the brand because all the existing filling machines and other factory equipment were designed to fit circular – not square – pints.
So, to efficiently fill the new pints and better control the quality of the ice cream, Ample Hills opened a new, larger factory earlier this summer.
“Right now we hand pack our pints and we can do maybe 800 to 1,000 pints a day, and that is stretching it because it takes a lot of hours and people. But with the new factory we will be able to produce 10,000 to 12,000 pints in a day with the automated filling machine, which means we can push the product further afield and to more people than just those who can visit the stores,” Smith said.
The factory also will streamline production of all the mix-ins that are added to the ice cream, including the peanut butter cups, peppermint patty pieces and buttery pound cake – all of which are made in-house.
“Our flavor profile is a critical differentiator for us, and one way we deliver on that is by making all the stuff that goes in our ice crema from scratch. So, all the peanut butter cups and cookie dough and peppermint pieces. In that regard, we are just as much a bakery and candy maker as an ice cream company,” Smith said.
“We are trying to push the boundaries of the quality of what we make,” he added.
As with nearly all other elements of the business, the factory also will play a role in bringing community together, Smith noted.
“The factory will be 50% bakery and candy shop and 50% a dairy plant and it will be open to the public, kind of like a museum where consumers can go on self-guided tours,” he said. “We really want to have people be able to come in and experience how ice cream is made and how we tell our stories.”
The new marketing playbook… How to build a kids’ food brand
How do you build a brand that appeals to parents and children? Add some cartoon characters and a comic sans serif font, or something a little more nuanced? Find out from Interact creative director and partner Fred Hart at the FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago this November. Full details HERE.