Unilever Uses Instacart to Boost Demand for Virtual Ice Cream Store

Unilever is making a direct play for consumers’ digital loyalty with its virtual storefront, The Ice Cream Shop, selling its packaged ice cream products across popular aggregators. Most recently, the storefront went live on Instacart’s online grocery marketplace after being available for years across restaurant aggregators such as DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub.

Daan Westdijk, head of sales and category strategy, North American Ice Cream at Unilever, explained in an interview with PYMNTS that this new Instacart partnership expands The Ice Cream Shop’s audience, attracting eGrocery shoppers in addition to restaurant aggregator users.

“Our new partnership with Instacart allows The Ice Cream Shop to not only reach an entirely new userbase spanning the entire country, but it also helps keep ice cream top-of-mind within a new shopping occasion — grocery delivery,” Westdijk said. “Until now, The Ice Cream Shop has [only] been available via popular meal delivery apps.”

Overall, The Ice Cream Shop marks something of a departure from the way brands typically sell on aggregators, foregrounding the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) company’s storefront in the transaction rather than that of the retailer from which the products are purchased.

By the Numbers

A significant share of consumers now order food online from restaurant and grocery delivery aggregators. Findings from the July edition of PYMNTS’ ConnectedEconomy™ series, “The ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Rise of the Smart Home,” which drew from a May census-balanced survey of more than 2,600 U.S. consumers, revealed that 43% order food for same-day delivery from aggregators every month. More than half of those aggregator customers reported making such purchases once a week or more.

Get the study: The Rise of the Smart Home

A slightly smaller share, meanwhile, order grocery delivery online each month. The study found that 40% of those surveyed reported that they had ordered groceries for home delivery in the same period, and nearly 1 in 4 consumers did so once a week or more.

Any Time at All

In addition to expanding the digital storefront’s audience, partnering with Instacart also enables Unilever to drive ice cream sales at times when consumers would not typically shop with restaurant aggregators, extending sales opportunities to more of the day.

“This [partnership] fits nicely with the fact that people are gravitating towards opening the Instacart app at times of day that are different from meal delivery apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats,” Westdijk said.

The initiative comes as restaurants also look to drive off-hours sales on food aggregators. Take for instance IHOP selling grilled cheeses and quesadillas under virtual brands’ banners to boost sales between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in partnership with virtual restaurant company Nextbite.

“We’ve really wanted to help these restaurants to maximize their underutilized kitchens, ’cause every restaurant has these opportunities to sell more food if they had that demand to do so,” Nextbite CEO told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in an interview.

Read more: How a 91-Year-Old LA Deli Inspired the Launch of Next-Gen Virtual Kitchen Concepts

Plus, for The Ice Cream Shop, in addition to boosting day sales, the Instacart partnership has also grown the variety of products the digital storefront is able to sell. Westdijk noted that the selection “is limited” on the restaurant aggregators through which the brand has traditionally sold its products, so that “top sellers” like Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked flavor sell well, but other items tend to get overlooked.

“Within Instacart, we’re able to leverage the power of their vast retail partners to expand the offerings to include more niche flavors and more formats like ice cream bars and cones,” he said. “Consumers seem to be gravitating still to favorites like Ben & Jerry’s but are also now shopping … from brands like Popsicle and Klondike.”

Doing the Robot

In addition to selling via popular restaurant and grocery aggregators, The Ice Cream Shop has also made headlines for its trials of more experimental fulfillment methods. For instance, in May, the brand announced its partnership with drone delivery company Flytrex to offer ice cream delivery via skyway in several markets, as well as a partnership with Robomart, which creates mobile stores that are hail-able in the style of an Uber or Lyft ride.

Related news: Ice Cream Trucks Get High-Tech Digital Payments Upgrade

Westdijk noted that the drone delivery trial is “off to a great start,” met by “overwhelmingly positive responses,” and that the Robomart partnership “is set to launch” next month in California. He additionally hinted that there may be other such tests in the future.

“This entire space is rapidly evolving,” Westdijk said, “and we’re excited for any innovation that shortens delivery times and increases availability of our ice cream.”