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KAI RYSSDAL: Summer's just around the corner. That means boom times for ice cream companies, or at least they really hope so. The industry's worth almost $14 billion, but sales have fallen as consumers choose dessert options that are better for you. Sixty-two-year-old Baskin Robbins is the biggest ice cream chain in the world. Nothing like a taste of one of those 31 flavors. Today, the company announced its branching out into soft-serve.
We asked Ashley Milne-Tyte to get the, um, scoop.
ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: The last time Baskin Robbins made a move this big was when it introduced ice cream cakes in the 1970s. Those went down pretty well. Ken Kimmel is Baskin Robbins' US brand manager. He expects soft-serve to be popular too, with kids and adults alike.
KEN KIMMEL: As you look at soft-serve consumption, it's grown dramatically over the last several years, and now seven out of 10 occasions are soft-serve ice cream treats.
He says those numbers alone made soft-serve an obvious choice. Bob Golden, of food industry consultancy Technomic, says the company's a bit late to the party.
BOB GOLDEN: Most of their major competitors like a Dairy Queen, certainly McDonald's, offer a soft-serve option, so competitively they're at somewhat of a disadvantage.
Baskin Robbins is still the third biggest US ice cream maker, but Richard Martin, of Nation's Restaurant News, says brands like Maggie Moo's and Cold Stone Creamery are nibbling away at the company's market share.
RICHARD MARTIN: Those chains have grown substantially, and I imagine had they not come along, there's some sales there that would have gone to Baskin Robbins.
Soft-serve might win back some of those customers. It also brings in more money than regular ice cream, says Bob Golden. He says there are fewer ingredients in a soft-serve cone than its tightly-packed counterpart.
GOLDEN: There's a fair amount of air that gets pumped in with that product, so it's also an attractive margin product.
He says the change will require new machines in Baskin Robbins' stores, but they'll be worth the cost, especially if it's a long, hot summer.
I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.