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Sub Zero Pivots to Dietary Restrictions


Sub Zero showed a revised brand strategy based on the company's reaction to the tsunami of dietary restrictions in the restaurant industry, both real and self imposed. With a mix of shock value from a blast from the nitrogen tank and great on-stage banter, Sub Zero presented a fresh take on its growing ice cream business.

A great brand presentation includes some key touch points with the audience—all centered around the idea of showing some personality and an ability to read the room. Knowing founders Jerry and Naomi Hancock have these skills down pat, I sat in the front row to receive the inevitable cool blasts from the nitrogen tanks that fuel Sub Zero’s business, and also help minimize energy costs and carbon footprints for its franchisees.

Naomi said that Sub Zero’s locations “can meet any dietary need” whether it’s a vegan diet, lactose intolerance, low fat or those avoiding sugar. As a member of the lactose-free tribe, seeing these options proliferate and improve in quality has been a godsend after suffering my way through some notably gross cashew- and soy-based alternatives. Sub Zero has wisely adapted, like most independent “craft-style” ice cream producers in local markets, to differentiate their mix beyond full fat, full sugar and full dairy—very nice.

Touching on the carbon footprint benefits of the business, which obviously also includes reduced energy costs that its shops have due to the number of freezers, Sub Zero was one of only a handful of brands at the Franchise Finance & Growth Conference that touched on sustainability efforts. I hope other presenters took note.

There’s more to juicing franchisee sales than such noble topics, of course. Jerry also shared how he’s merged his background as a chemist with the ability to introduce new people into the Sub Zero client base. By going into schools and educating kids about the different states of matter, which its products so vividly display, the brand is able to do outreach that isn’t just cold-calling or cold-visiting area businesses. There’s nothing like hooking them young, especially when the end products are science education and ice cream enjoyment.

I’m always impressed by Jerry and Naomi, and that was before I ever tried the products myself. The brand’s huckleberry frozen ice is like no other I’ve experienced, including fancy local treat shops at home in Minneapolis. Soft to the point of being creamy, full of flavor, great texture, and something that’s truly appealing for those steering themselves away from traditional ice cream, but still looking for a treat.

Sub Zero is now up to more than 60 stores in 18 states, mostly skipping the often frigid Upper Midwest. With impressive EBITDA numbers and fast growth, Sub Zero hit on many of the best tactics for standing out a franchise convention—and it’s clear the same skills come into play with marketing and the brand’s growth strategy.

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About This Blog

The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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