Inspired by consumers’ ever-increasing obsession with the story of their food and everything Food Network–related, Ritter’s Frozen Custard realized last summer that the time had come to spice up its menu and capture this growing market.

And the chain wasn’t afraid to go outside of its comfort zone. Developing a line of “Flavors for Foodies,” the brand came up with eight new and unique flavors, including Lemon Basil, Avocado Banana, Balsamic Strawberry, Spicy Chocolate, Nutty Ale, and more.

The brand, which offers guests more than 120 flavors of Italian ice and frozen custard, is accustomed to variety, but the combination of sweet and savory flavors was completely novel to it—and the industry as a whole, says Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer for Ritter’s parent company TRUFOODS.

“Everyone is focused on just adding things to existing flavors—like, ‘Let’s put pecans in the chocolate ice cream and call it Chocolate Pecan’—as opposed to actually creating something new and unique,” he says. “When you look at our flavors and think about the fact that we actually have some flavors that allow for the fusion of sweet an savory, that is certainly unique in the industry.”

Occhiogrosso says the Flavors for Foodies line attempts to capture the attention of the increasingly coveted foodie market.

“There are folks out there who naturally, normally, regularly have maybe a more defined flavor palate in the sense of experimenting with different flavors or flavors that don’t necessarily connect to the item,” he says. “They’re not bashful or afraid to try something new.”

He adds that the target consumer for the line is “a person that’s willing to explore, willing to take a chance on flavors that may be different and unique, and can look at something like Spicy Chocolate and say, ‘Wow, that’s kind of cool. It’s chocolate, it’s sweet, and it’s got kind of a kick at the end.’”

But the brand is also inviting some of its less adventuresome customers to enjoy the flavors. Occhiogrosso says a Facebook contest giving out a gift card to the fan with the best flavor review served as a push for hesistant guests to dabble in the new flavors.

“That was an initiative and certainly incentive for someone to say, ‘Well, I like chocolate and I like spicy,’ or, ‘I like lemon and I like basil; let’s see what they taste like together in the form of a frozen custard,’” he says.

The flavors, which were first tested in Texas and Florida, followed by the Midwest, are rolling out to locations nationwide this month.

Introducing the new line two flavors at a time, Moore says early feedback from franchisees and customers shows that Nutty Ale, Spicy Chocolate, and Balsamic Strawberry are the three biggest hits in test markets. Depending on the reception nationwide, Occhiogross says there may just be more flavors to come in the future.

Fred Kirvan, chief operating officer of Ritter's, says the flavors received rave reviews from customers in test markets. “Not all flavors were homeruns,” he admits, “but for the most part, the feedback was very positive.”

And the excitement isn’t limited to guests, Moore says.

“It’s generating a lot of buzz, not just from the customer base, but just excitement from the employees within the stores,” he says. “The buzz starts from the franchisees, then the employees, and the customer, and I think that’s what helped enhance the rollout, too, because enthusiasm was 360 [degrees] in the whole process.”

Occhiogrosso says the new Flavors for Foodies line not only emphasizes the brand’s focus on quality, but also points to its commitment to freshness—both in ideas and products.

“I personally don’t think it takes any great effort to produce hundreds of flavors of ice cream in a factory, put them in a blast freezer, and send them out in a tub to an ice cream shop,” he says.

“The equity in this entire process is the fact that … we make the frozen custard fresh every day on the premises,” Occhiogrosso continues. “The undertaking of new and different flavors that increase the variety of our product offerings—to do it fresh every day—that speaks to our commitment to producing a fresh-made product.”

By Mary Avant

Desserts, Menu Innovations, News, Ritter's