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Denise Leathers

Maybe mac & cheese ice cream isn’t your thing, but the concept has potential in frozen and refrigerated.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream’s recent announcement that a collection of limited-edition flavors, including such unlikely varieties as Mac & Cheese and Pizza, will be available exclusively at Walmart through late May has sparked quite a bit of conversation recently. According to online discussion forum RetailWire, the partnership has its roots in the “drop culture” trend pioneered by streetwear brands Supreme and Nike. Hyped on social media, their limited-edition clothing and footwear often sell out as soon as they hit stores.


While retailers like Target have used the same strategy to peddle exclusive designer fashions, such collaborations are still fairly rare on the food side. As several RetailWire commenters noted, while a cool piece of limited-edition clothing can be worn and “showed off” for months, once that ice cream has been consumed, it’s gone forever, eliminating a key purchase driver. As a result, most think the best use of limited editions in grocery is to test out new items.

But I tend to agree with commenter Jeff Sward, founding partner of Merchandising Metrics, who said: “Limited edition as a strategic marketing tool is one of the most powerful assets available to a brand or retailer.” Echoing every expert I’ve ever talked to about Aldi Finds, he also said, “Limited edition is a powerful incentive to buy now and buy at full price. I’m continually amazed that it is not used more often by more brands and retailers.” Amen.

Exclusive limited editions are also a great way to add some excitement to a shopping experience that’s often a little, well…stale. In fact, I’d love to see retailers partner with manufacturers in some new categories. In frozen and refrigerated, we’ve seen plenty of limited editions in ice cream and a handful of other segments (hummus and fresh soup come to mind). But why not frozen pizza, entrée bowls or snacks? Or refrigerated cheesecake or yogurt? What a great opportunity to bring in some international flavors in conjunction with Chinese New Year or Cinco de Mayo or to give curious consumers a taste of unique, on-trend ingredients. Anything not pumpkin spice or gingerbread would be a welcome change. (I, for one, would line up for any product flavored with Chick-fil-A sauce. Just putting that out there.)

The exclusive part is also key. When Ben & Jerry’s offers a new limited edition flavor available everywhere, it’s great for the brand, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for the retailer. There’s a reason Sprouts, Target and others often insist they be the only ones to offer a new product for several months.


While planning this column, I was thinking a lot about what Bill Bishop had said about limited editions when I interviewed him for the last time in November. So it came as a bit of a shock to hear that he had passed away at age 80 on March 25. I spoke to him several times in his capacity as “chief architect” at Brick Meets Click, the firm he co-founded in 2011 after four decades at the helm of Willard Bishop Consulting. Bill’s knowledge of the grocery industry was unmatched, but he was also a true gentleman. The family is working to coordinate an online memorial event for friends from across the industry. Details will be posted on our website when available.

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the Editorial Director for Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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