The digital shift is leaving no aspect of food commerce untouched, with even the ice cream truck seeing tech-enabled updates from the century-old model we all know and love.
Consumers don’t have to wait anymore for the distorted music box tunes coming through their neighborhood to know when ice cream will be brought to them. In addition to all the ice cream available on third-party delivery platforms, UK based consumer packaged goods (CPG) giant Unilever is rethinking the ice cream truck with multiple robotic upgrades.
In early May, the company announced a partnership with Robomart, which creates mobile stores that are hail-able in the style of Uber or Lyft, to offer on-demand ice cream from Unilever brands – including Ben & Jerry’s, Talenti, and Breyers – in an initiative called The Ice Cream Shop.
On Wednesday, May 25, Unilever announced an extension of this digital storefront in partnership with drone delivery company Flytrex to offer ice cream delivery via skyway in all the markets in which Flytrex operates (Holly Springs, Fayetteville and Raeford, North Carolina, and Granbury, Texas).
In an interview with PYMNTS, Russel Lilly, general manager of Unilever North American Ice Cream, noted that both partnerships are meant to offer customers “ease of access, a seamless experience and a new way to enjoy ice cream treats.” With this drone delivery partnership, the company aims to get a sense of how consumers behave when the technology is available.
“We’re excited to work with Flytrex to learn about how consumers are using drone delivery for their ice cream needs,” Lilly said. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities to expand our assortment of products offered via The Ice Cream Shop, and possibilities to expand geographically as Flytrex grows their footprint in the US.”
He added that the company is looking into other kinds of automated fulfillment as well as considering the possibility of using virtual reality (VR) to enhance the experience.
Unilever isn’t the only company rethinking the ice cream truck for today’s smart-phone-dependent consumers. In a couple dozen towns in New Jersey, for instance, consumers can summon an on-demand ice cream truck to their house, the so-called Scream Truck, by signing up for alerts and texting a designated number to reserve a spot.
Additionally, snacks company KIND announced Wednesday a promotion giving away its “FROZEN Treat Bars” via ice-cream-truck-style vehicle – but rather than relying on consumers stumbling upon the vehicle by happenstance, the company is leveraging social media to offer regular updates on the truck’s location.
Overall, the way consumers get their summer food needs met is evolving. Outdoor dining areas established during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, having proven popular with diners, remain available more than they were before the outbreak, with many municipalities making legal allowances for their continuation.
“Restaurateurs are really nimble, and they love to be creative and experiment,” Andrew Robbins, co-founder and chief executive offficer at Paytronix, told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in an interview last spring. “If someone has learned that they can create a Tiki bar on a Friday night in their parking lot and pack in more people than they can inside, then they’re going to be doing a Tiki bar in the parking every single Friday night. That creativity is going to stay.”
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When it comes to the ice cream truck, it is likely that more tech-powered variations on the classic will emerge in the near future.
“It is truly incredible when I think about how delivery services and automated technologies have evolved last few years – especially when it comes to on-demand delivery,” Lilly said. “If we could get ice cream delivered via the skies in 2022, I can only imagine what’s possible in 5, 10 or 15 years.”