News | May 10, 1999

Friendly Cyclones Seek Damage to McDonald's and Dairy Queen Soft-Serve

In what it says is the biggest product introduction ever, Friendly Ice Cream Corp. and its family restaurant chain introduced its first soft-serve ice-cream line today.

The Wilbraham, MA, chain introduced the Cyclone, aimed at McDonald's McFlurry, which bowed last year, International Dairy Queen's Blizzard, and unbranded offerings sold by ice cream trucks and small stores. The Cyclone features M&M candy and Oreo cookie crumbles and is targeted at licking the competition in what it estimates to be a $2.5-billion soft-serve market.

"There's no question Dairy Queen--and McDonald's getting in--affected our decision, but we'd be there anyway,'' said John Cutter, Friendly's president, who cited research showing children prefer soft-serve. "Adding soft-serve to its 64 years of hard-pack and sundae offerings will allow Friendly's to boost its carryout business as well as attract more children."

A new ad campaign that starts today for the Cyclone and soft-serve line is part of a repositioning by the chain from a product to a "neighborhood gathering place" orientation and feature a "Simple pleasures" tagline begun for its SuperMelt ice-cream sandwiches last spring. A radio campaign targeting teen-agers follows in the summer.

We're shifting to, and capitalizing on, the emotional strengths of the brand,'' said Scott Colwell, VP of marketing. "The strategy is to capitalize on its hard-pack reputation and position its soft-serve as "premium quality."

Friendly's, with 686 restaurants mostly in Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, has had recent financial difficulties, as evident by last week's first-quarter revenue drop of 4% to $145.7 million vs. the previous year. Friendly's has 2.1% of the overall $31 billion family style restaurant market, according Technomic.

Cutter said the company plans to add new locations, both company-owned and franchises, in the next few years. Expansion into Georgia and the Carolinas and throughout Florida, where it already has restaurants, is being considered.