Walmart has scored an exclusive deal on seven new flavors of ice cream from Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, including Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The flavors will rotate at 3,500 US locations over a 10-week period.
In July 2021, Kraft partnered with Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen to produce an ice cream version of its signature Macaroni & Cheese. The limited-edition variant led to loud objections from ice cream purists across social media, but the 6,000 pints sold out online within an hour.
The macaroni flavor returned in August in another limited-run, but the Walmart collaboration marks the first time the flavor is reaching stores. The other six ice cream flavors coming to Walmart over the 10-week run are Planet Earth, Pizza, Hot Honey, Royal Wedding Cake, Bourbon Cherries Jubilee and Wild Blueberry Shortcake.
This is the first exclusive rotation that Van Leeuwen is bringing to Walmart stores. It has plans to refresh the flavors later in the summer.
The collaboration takes a page from the “drop culture” trend pioneered in the streetwear category in the US by Supreme and Nike. Hyped on social media, the limited-edition apparel and footwear releases often sell out immediately. Nordstrom, Macy’s and Target are among retailers known for their limited-time fashion capsules, but so far limited-edition exclusives have been a bigger sales opportunity in fashion than food.
In an online discussion last week on RetailWire members of the BrainTrust like Jeff Sward, principal at Merchandising Metrics, saw value in this type of partnership for other brands and retailers.
“’Limited edition’ as a strategic weapon and as a marketing tool is one of the most powerful assets available to a brand or retailer,” wrote Mr. Sward, principal. “It’s also one of the most under-utilized. Limited edition is a powerful incentive to buy now and buy at full price. I am constantly amazed that it is not used more often by more brands and retailers.”
“Outside of predictable seasonal item promotions, grocers have not done a great job developing or partnering to offer LTOs,” wrote Patricia Vekich Waldron, CEO of Vision First. “When they do have these types of specials, they don’t do a great job promoting them. Grocers would be smart to identify compelling products and campaigns to drive frequency, traffic and margin.”
The trend may already be picking up speed in grocery. Speedway and Mountain Dew, Sam’s Club and M&Ms, Starbucks and Target, and Kroger and Oreo have all recently partnered on limited-edition products.
Ryan Mathews, CEO of Black Monk Consulting, pointed out that in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) arena there is some precedent for offbeat ice-cream success.
“Ben & Jerry’s has made several fortunes on limited availability ice creams,” wrote Mr. Mathews. “So Walmart and Van Leeuwen’s partnership isn’t exactly blazing new ground in the category — unless you consider marketing flavors and form factors that probably shouldn’t be combined in the first place new ground. Will it work? Why not, it has for decades now.”
For others, the strategy opens new potential avenues for both brands and customers to explore.
“I see an opportunity for CPG brands to bring in some of their international products,” wrote Gwen Morrison, partner at Candezent. “For example Lay’s Kobe Steak Flavor from Taiwan fetches about $8 a bag at a NYC shop called Motherland Exotics. Why not feature it in US grocery?”
“The choice of limited edition flavors aside, the concept of exclusive brands has real market differential potential,” wrote Richard J. George, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. “These brands give consumers permission to bypass their normal ‘go-to’ store in search of exclusive/limited edition brands.”
Some BrainTrust members did, however, point out potential hurdles to avoid when playing with limited-edition offerings.
“Limited-edition items in grocery are a double-edged sword,” wrote Gary Sankary, retail industry strategy at Esri. “They create interest and are great for marketing hype. However grocery, unlike fashion apparel, depends on frequency. Grocery customers are not very tolerant of frequent changing of assortments and layouts in the store. Shoppers develop patterns, they discover their favorite items and they like to find them in the same place every week when they shop. Mess with that, in my experience, and they get grouchy.”
“There is always the danger that [limited-edition] will be overused and abused, much like the word “sale,”” wrote Mr. Sward. “But if executed with integrity it can be a very powerful tool, across many product categories.”