Innovative Retailers Part 3 – Where ice cream is much more than just ice and cream
The Name: The Icecreamists
The Place: Covent Garden market and Maiden Lane
The Story: Matt O’Connor is the founder and he is very, very serious about ice cream and the business of sin. Starting out with just a pop-up store in Selfridges in 2009 he has already entered the PR hall of fame with the whole breastmilk icecream (Baby Gaga) shenanigans and subsequent legal battle with Lady Gaga over the name. Oh, and that was after Westminster Council tried to ban it from being sold.
Regrets? You are joking. Mr O’Connor is a one-man publicity machine and he got huge sales out of Baby Googoo (yes, they had to change the name eventually) whilst it was on sale. It sold out on day one. And even now 15-20 people a week come in and ask for it.
Dare I ask who was buying it? Women, women and more women. O’Connor never saw a man ask for it during the whole period. One donor was supplying all the milk for it and for a while ‘it looked more like a milking parlour than an icecream parlour’ back of house. It was all very wholesome however until a certain pop star objected.
What happened? Big lawyers, big threats. O’Connor offered name changes but unaccountably she wasn’t keen. Not even on LadyBoy Gaga.
What’s a cross-dressing LadyBoy Gaga ice cream made of? Don’t even go there.
Moving on, where does the interest in ice-cream come from? He has worked in ice cream for 25 years but is still fascinated by its mix of childhood fantasy and adult indulgence. He describes his ice cream fantasies as “bitter and twisted like a Roald Dahl story”. And he rails against the paradox of low fat health-trend ice cream.’ In these god-forsaken times people are looking for indulgence.’
So, are toddlers queuing at the door too? Well, not if they have seen the website. It’s all gothic skulls and sharpening knives sound effects. Adult only then. With names like Molotoffee Cocktail, which comes flambéed to your table, it’s definitely aimed at adults. However, his children like it – they say it’s like being in his head. It’s a heady mix of music, fashion inspired by the punk ethic. But he would have made it more x-rated if he could. Having said that, the Maiden Lane outlet is billed as a gay pop-up for over 18’s only.
Do they serve vanilla? Behave. They make all their ice cream fresh every day. They develop a winter collection and a spring/summer collection every year so they have a back catalogue of hundreds of varieties. O’Connor titles himself the ‘Quality Fat Controller’ and does frequent tastings. There will also be a 40-strong blindfold consumer tasting to launch the winter collection. According to O’Connor their popcorn ice cream made Heston Blumenthal (who also has a version) look like Ronald McDonald. He raves about the mulled wine and port sorbetto and don’t even get him on the subject of the popping candy ice cream.
Why? Because apparently it will blow your fillings out.
Crikey, how much does all this excitement cost? £4.50 for two scoops and up to £20 for the ice cream cocktails. The average punter parts with around £10.
Any news on expansion? There’s been lots of interest, from New York, Las Vegas, and Shanghai. But he does not know how it would or could be run overseas. Certainly they would only open one outlet in each country. He does not want to be Starbucks.
Supermarkets must be queuing up? But he’s not keen. In the shop he constructs his own theatre around the customer, with retailers he is stuck with half price deals and BOGOFs. O’Connor thinks allthe value has been stripped out of the premium ice cream sector by the likes of Ben and Jerry’s. He’sgot more important things to think about anyway, there is a TV series filming in October and a bookcoming out next year. And of course his winter collection.
Anything scandalous in it? He’s concentrating on hot desserts, fondues and the like. And his staff will be wearing pink/green tartan kilts – a homage to Dame Vivienne Westwood. But if its scandal you want keep an ear out for his lollies?
Pardon? He’s got a controversial ice lolly coming out. It’s rude apparently. And illegal.
Where can I find out more? Probably on Twitter. O’Connor says social media has been “absolutely critical” to his success. Any slight dip in quality for example and someone will Tweet. Then it is dealt with immediately.
Can he do the same for yogurt? Hell no. Yogurt is for choirboys. But doughnuts are a different matter. O’Connor is poised to give the British seaside doughnut a punk makeover.
I think we’d better end there.