Graeter’s Ice Cream is an ice cream chain that got its start over 145 years ago. Louis Graeter started the business in 1868, when he began selling ice cream at neighborhood street markets in Cincinnati, OH. In 1922, Louis opened the first Graeter’s ice cream parlor and soon began expanding throughout the country. Today, the fourth generation of the Graeter family owns and operates the company and there are over 50 neighborhood store locations across the country. You can also find Graeter’s in grocery stores including Kroger, Whole Foods, Meijer and Jewel-Osco.
In this interview with Richard Graeter, President and CEO of Graeter’s Ice Cream, he shares the history behind Graeter’s, how they compete on a national scale and what has been their key to maintaining quality over the last 145 years in business.
Tell me a little bit about Graeter’s Ice Cream. How did the company get started?
Richard: Graeter’s is a family owned and operated, Cincinnati based ice cream brand that’s been around for four generations! Our ice cream is made in small batches, 2 1/2 gallons at a time, and every pint is hand packed. As the landscape of the food industry continues to shift with each passing trend, the fourth-generation of the Graeter family continues to handcraft their ice cream the same they have been since 1870, 2½ gallons at a time. An emerging trend among consumers, craft ice cream is defined as small-batch, locally produced, and handcrafted – traits that Graeter’s Ice Cream has embodied for over 145 years. Today, we are the only commercial ice cream manufacturer to still use the French Pot process, which produces an ice cream with a uniquely dense and smooth texture, and allows the formation of our signature gourmet chocolate chunks.
How do you market Graeter’s Ice Cream and what are your marketing challenges?
Richard: We take great pride in marketing Graeter’s. First and foremost, our scoop shops let consumers experience Graeter’s first hand. All the marketing in the world pales in comparison to the most important moment of truth: tasting Graeter’s for the first time. With one taste, the shopper instantly understands the Graeter’s difference, and it is that personal experience that will drive them into the grocery store as well as to our online store where they can order ice cream for home delivery. Secondly, we focus heavily on social media, staying in close contact with each fan and offering them a more intimate look at the company. Public relations, too, helps us to promote the Graeter’s brand to a wider audience, promoting special events like our truck tour, and community engagements, like our sponsorship for the Western and Southern Open Tennis Tournament.
The most important challenge in marketing is cutting through the clutter of brands that do not live up to their own hype. Today, even the world’s largest corporations claim to be making “craft” or “artisan” ice cream, and the overuse of these terms by companies large and small who fail to live up to the promise risks making them meaningless. Our challenge is to prove to the consumer that not all craft claims are equal, that there is a difference in quality, and that they need to take care not to be fooled by false marketing. Authenticity is the key, and there are very few brands that actually deliver on the promises that they make. My challenge is to make sure that Graeter’s delivers and exceeds consumer expectations every single time.
How do you compete with other ice cream brands?
Richard: We compete with other ice cream brands simply by making a superior product. For over 145 years, our single-minded dedication to product quality has established the Graeter’s brand and earned a strong and loyal following among our customers. The market today is being flooded with new ice cream innovations, from ice cream made with nitrogen before your eyes to the use of trendy, exotic, or even weird ingredients that seem more intent on surprising rather than delighting. These products often come with a surprisingly steep price tag. While we are uncompromising in our continued dedication to heritage of quality, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. It is, after all, just ice cream. And traditional American ice cream at its core is a simple pleasure.
We don’t get much more exotic than Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, which is our most popular flavor, and frankly, I think that our plain vanilla (which is made with fresh ground Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans) is pure perfection. The neat thing about Graeter’s is that we serve the entire family. Grandma and Grandpa can order traditional favorites like Butter Pecan, Mom and Dad can get more sophisticated scoops like Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip or one of our new gelatos, and the kids can delight in childhood favorites like Cookies and Cream. We serve the entire family, while remaining an affordable luxury. Hand made quality is expensive, and we do cost a little more than the national brands, but we keep our price below that of the other trendy brands that you may find on shelf today.
What are your biggest challenges?
Richard: It is crucial for the Graeter’s Ice Cream team to be full of great people. The secret to our success is a strong team of A-players. Finding the best people is very difficult, but we have been very successful in attracting the best and brightest to join the Graeter’s team. With a strong team, no challenge is insurmountable.
What are the pros and cons of the franchise model?
Richard: We no longer offer franchises. While we do currently have one franchisee, we decided that the only way we could guarantee our quality was to keep everything within the family. Franchising is a strategy for fast growth, and you can get rich quick with this model, but you can fail pretty fast too. The Graeter family has opted for slow and steady growth, and our vision is to continue to build our legacy of quality and pass it on to the 5th generation of family leadership.
How did you start expanding the business and what was your process for sourcing new locations?
Richard: We began our expansion back in 2007 with a test market at King Soopers stores in Denver, Colorado. The success of that test led to our expansion to additional markets, which led to the need for a new production facility, ultimately enabling us to expand to even more markets so that now, you can find Graeter’s in most states. Our most recent expansion was in the southeast with our introduction in Harris Teeter stores this spring. Even though we have been expanding distribution, you won’t find Graeter’s everywhere or in every grocery chain. Many big box retailers are simply not right for our brand, and sometimes the most important decision is deciding to say “no” to a growth opportunity.
Equally important for us is our network of Graeter’s retail stores. Finding the right location for a retail store is more art than science, and location can make or break a store. Graeter’s retail stores allow consumers to experience our brand in person, which then leads to higher purchases at the grocery store. Our grocery sales are much higher in markets where we also have Graeter’s retail stores, which is why we are aggressively expanding our network of retail stores. In the last year or so, we have opened seven new stores, including one in Oxford, home of my alma mater Miami University, our first store in Chicago, and we have two more stores set to open this fall. We are actively pursuing a second Chicago location, as well as two locations in Cleveland for next year, and perhaps Nashville after that. Our vision is to be the premier ice cream in the Midwest.
How do you source your ingredients? How has your model changed since the beginning and What did you learn along the way?
Richard: We source the highest quality ingredients for Graeter’s Ice Cream, from fresh local Ohio cream, to black raspberries grown on family farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, to the world’s finest vanilla beans from Madagascar. What we put into our ice cream is as important as how we make it. The only thing that has changed is that we need more ingredients today than we did in my father’s day. Now, we buy entire crops a year in advance, and may carry a million dollars in inventory of raw fruit and nuts. But that is the only way to ensure that we have the quality ingredients that we need on hand. You can’t just go out and buy some things like Willamette Valley black raspberries, you get one chance a year to get them and then its gone. And since Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip is our most popular flavor, we cannot afford to run out!
Did you use any investment funding to get started? What were the advantages or disadvantages?
Richard: We remain 100% family owed. Because of our 145-year history of successfully managing our business in a careful and conservative manner, we have found that conventional bank financing is always available when we need it, which isn’t often. Coming from a thrifty Germanic heritage, we prefer to finance our growth out of cash flow. That limits growth somewhat, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. When you have third party investors, you focus changes to short-term quarterly metrics and purely financial measures of return. By being 100% family owned, we look long term, sometimes generations into the future, and can consider non-monetary returns on investment that would never show up on an investor’s financial statement.
Who do you admire in the industry and why?
Richard: I admire every little guy out there with a passion for making something different and better than anything else on the market. I go to a trade show called The Fancy Food Show in New York City every summer to share our ice cream with thousands of professionals in the specialty food industry. I always take time to walk the aisles and sample products, and I meet some pretty incredible people who are as passionately dedicated to making the best possible product in their category as I am to making ice cream. These passionate men and women are my heroes – each and every one of them – as I appreciate the sacrifice and struggle that comes with trying to bring a quality brand to market. Unfortunately, it is often not the best quality product that wins out. The barriers to getting a specialty product on shelf are extremely high, and expensive, and sadly, many consumers will never get the chance to try many of the wonderful products I find at the show. For example, my favorite Greek yogurt is Fage – it is the Graeter’s of Greek yogurt – but it is almost impossible to find. The big corporate brands soak up all the shelf space, making it very difficult for smaller quality brands like Fage to get a fair shot. We are competing with Nestle and Unilever for space in the freezer, and it can be very difficult for us when they can spend millions and millions of dollars to incentivize retailers to take space away from little guys like Graeter’s so that they can fill the shelves with lower quality products.
How do you know when and what to delegate to your team?
Richard: I do not micromanage my team. In fact, any CEO who does is an abject failure, as he or she must not trust their team to do the job that they were hired to do. I sleep pretty well at night knowing that I have a team of A players that are uniquely qualified to know more about their area of responsibility than I do. My executive team meets as a group weekly, and everyone is expected to bring important issues in their area of responsibility to the table. We openly discuss important issues, solicit recommendations, and make decisions by consensus. If even a single member of my team objects, that is a big red flag warning me to check my assumptions.
Do you have any “growth hacker” tips for entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the next level? What examples do you have of things you did that set yourself apart from the rest?
Richard: Since it took us over a hundred years to expand out of the city of Cincinnati, I’m not sure that anyone can accuse us of being growth hackers! I think that the most important thing is to welcome help, and even to look for it in unexpected places. We used to do everything ourselves, but you can only do so much on your own. Our growth curve began when we hired consultants with expertise that we lacked, and continued by adding senior level nonfamily members to our team, and accelerated by forming strategic alliances with third parties like suppliers, customers, and even competitors. The best growth hack is finding people and partners who want to grow with you.
What advice do you have for businesses that are having a hard time trying to figure out how to scale their business?
Richard: Small brands succeed in differentiating their product, usually based on quality. Authenticity is critically important when growing a brand, and by that I mean that you must resist the temptation to compromise on what established your brand when trying to grow it. In the ice cream category, I have seen it all too often. A small craft ice cream maker starts out with one shop making ice cream in the back room and begins to win a loyal following, but then turn to co-packing (which means a larger third manufacturing actually makes the product and merely puts the little guy’s name on the container) in order to expand. What you end up with is mass-produced ice cream whose main difference is fancy marketing and a higher price point, but is no longer a small batch artisan product. I understand the temptation, as working with dairy products in a small manufacturing environment can be a perilous endeavor, but you can’t compromise your brand just to feed growth. Some people want to get rich quick then sell out. My motivation is to build on my father’s legacy and pass it on to my children. My partners, who are my cousins, share in this vision.
Graeter’s Ice Cream Continues Unprecedented Growth with First Initial Expansion into Cleveland
CINCINNATI, OH (November 12, 2015) – Graeter’s Ice Cream, a 145-year-old family owned and operated craft ice cream brand, has announced its plans to expand the company’s network of retail stores to the Cleveland area. The new store in Cleveland’s Crocker Park is slated to open the summer of 2016 and will offer a complete menu of decadent ice cream, sundaes, milkshakes and old-fashioned sodas for which Graeter’s has come to be known.
“We’re proud to bring the Cleveland community a new way to enjoy Graeter’s Ice Cream,” says Richard Graeter, CEO and fourth-generation owner of Graeter’s Ice Cream. “We believe ice cream is more than an indulgence, it is an experience meant to be shared with family and friends. Our first Cleveland scoop shop will allow us to share our love for authentic ice cream with the community while staying true to our vision of quality and integrity.”
The Graeter family’s passion for making ice cream is evident by their use of century-old technology, The French Pot freezer. Each batch of ice cream is made 2 ½ gallons at a time using quality ingredients such as cream from Ohio dairy farms, vanilla beans from Madagascar and black raspberries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The French Pots also allow Graeter’s trained artisans to handcraft their signature chocolate chips. The resulting ice cream is so dense and creamy, due to the absence of whipped-in air, that each pint must be packed by hand. Pints are currently sold at select Cleveland grocery stores.
At more than 2,000 square feet, Graeter’s Crocker Park store will feature all of the new branding elements created in 2013 that combine a contemporary look to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Designed to be a destination for families and true ice cream aficionados, this location will have indoor and patio seating for over fifty people.
Graeter’s Ice Cream was founded in 1870, cultivating a community of loyal brand lovers by selling their popular French Pot churned ice cream in Cincinnati’s street markets. Once sold in the deli section of a dozen Kroger stores in the 1980’s, Graeter’s Ice Cream is now in over 2,000 Kroger stores from coast to coast and is offered in such prestigious retailers as Whole Foods, Giant Eagle, and Henien’s. The new Cleveland store will be joining over 50 other successful Graeter’s Ice Cream shops in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
Graeter’s Ice Cream produces craft ice cream and gelato lines using the small batch, artisanal method, the French pot process, dating back over a century. Graeter’s has won the hearts of ice cream enthusiasts across the country as well as the respect of the nation’s most influential foodies. Winner of the 2015 Munchie award for best ice cram in the United States, the Cincinnati-based company remains family owned and operated and continues to handcraft ice cream 2½ gallons at a time. Today, Graeter’s has 45 retail stores and ship over 300,000 pints annually for online mail order sales. Graeter’s can also be found in more than 6,000 grocery stores in 46 states. Visit www.graeters.com for more information.
What should a Kooza/Cirque du Soleil sundae taste like?
Live Nation and Cirque du Soleil is partnering with Graeter’s for the upcoming Columbus, Ohio engagement of KOOZA, a Cirque du Soleil Big Top show opening June 4 under the iconic blue and yellow big top!
We are so excited, we want to create a special sundae to feature and we need your help! What should a Kooza/Cirque du Soleil sundae taste like? Submit your answer in the comments and you just might taste your creation! Contests starts May 10th and ends May 25th. Must reside in the Columbus, Ohio area. View the Official Rules.
The person chosen for the winning sundae will receive a Grand Prize package including premium tickets and a backstage tour. Go Behind the Scenes after the show and see how this massive touring operation works—costumes, makeup, lighting, props, stagecraft…see the life of a Cirque Artist firsthand.
The Grand Prize package will include:
- • Four premium tickets for opening night
- • Backstage Tour of KOOZA for four (priceless!)
- • KOOZA merchandise pack
- • If the VIP Rouge tent is open for opening night, four passes will be made available as well.
- • $100 Graeter’s Gift Card
One additional winner per store will be chosen to win a pair of tickets to see KOOZA on opening night, June 4 + $10 Gift Card. Each of the nine stores will have a ticket winner for a total of 2 tickets per store + 2 Free Cone Coupons. These winners will be chosen from register to win boxes in-store, as well as from the “selfie with your sundae” participants.
Graeter’s Ice Cream Announces Their Expansion into Harris Teeter Markets
CINCINNATI, OH (May 13, 2015) – Graeter’s Ice Cream, a super premium craft ice cream brand, is excited to announce its expansion into Harris Teeter markets. This expansion is a result of growing consumer requests. Graeter’s Ice Cream enthusiasts can now find pints of their favorite ice cream in Harris Teeter for $5.49. This favorite ice cream brand will be more accessible than ever to shoppers loyal to Harris Teeter stores.
As the landscape of the food industry continues to shift with each passing trend, the fourth-generation of the Graeter family continues to handcraft their ice cream with the same process that they have been using since 1870, 2½ gallons at a time. An emerging trend among consumers, craft ice cream is defined as small-batch, locally produced and handcrafted - traits that Graeter’s Ice Cream has embodied for over 145 years. Today, they are the only commercial ice cream manufacturer to use the French Pot process, giving Graeter’s Ice Cream its signature smooth texture and its signature rich chocolate chunks.
“Introducing new consumers to what ice cream should really taste like is always exciting to us at Graeter’s,” shares George Denman, Vice President of Sales for Graeter’s Ice Cream. “Craft ice cream, family made, hand packed — Harris Teeter customers are in for a sweet treat, and we’re excited to bring it to them.”
Graeter’s Ice Cream will be debuting its brand new ice cream truck to Harris Teeter shoppers in a statewide ice cream truck tour beginning June 5 at the Chapel Hill North Harris Teeter location. Harris Teeter shoppers will be able to taste a free 2 oz sample of Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip, Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chip and Original Salted Caramel ice cream outside of various Harris Teeter stores. For a full schedule of tour stops, visit our website.
Harris Teeter, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Kroger Company, offers consumers a high-end grocery shopping experience, lining the aisles with well-established brands that shoppers know and trust. Graeter’s Ice Cream’s expansion into Harris Teeter not only mirrors the grocery store’s commitment to bringing their shoppers only the finest products, but also Graeter’s Ice Cream’s commitment to bringing shoppers the very best they have to offer, ice cream unparalleled in quality, texture, and flavor. Flavors available at Harris Teeter are the best-selling Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip, the brand new Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chip, Mint Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip, Coconut Chocolate Chip, The Original Salted Caramel, and Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean.
Graeter’s Ice Cream produces craft ice cream and gelato lines using a small batch, artisanal method of production dating back over a century. Graeter’s has won the hearts of ice cream enthusiasts across the country as well as the respect of the nation’s most influential foodies. The Cincinnati-based company remains family owned and operated and continues to handcraft ice cream 2½ gallons at a time. Today, Graeter’s has 40 retail stores and ship over 300,000 pints annually for online mail order sales. Graeter’s can also be found in more than 6,000 grocery stores in 46 states. Visit www.graeters.com for more information.
Graeter’s Ice Cream Announces Addition of Butter Pecan to Line of Low Glycemic Ice Creams
CINCINNATI, OH (May 11, 2015) — Graeter’s Ice Cream, a super premium craft ice cream brand, announces the addition of a new flavor to their existing line of low glycemic ice cream. For a limited time, Butter Pecan will join Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Chip and Mint Chocolate Chip in bringing consumers an ice cream that contains 50 percent less sugar than Graeter’s traditional ice cream.
Crafted using the naturally low-glycemic sweetness obtained from the monk fruit, each flavor boasts the Graeter’s Ice Cream taste that has garnered a passionate following for over 145 years. The monk fruit provides a natural alternative to sugar that is 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and releases slowly into the body, making it a safer option for people who are required to monitor their sugar consumption or those who wish to indulge in Graeter’s ice cream on a restricted diet. Graeter’s Low Glycemic ice creams have half the amount of sugar, 25 percent less fat and 25 percent fewer calories, and recently earned a Low Glycemic Certification from the Glycemic Research Institute.
“Every person deserves to enjoy Graeter’s Ice Cream, and now they have even more ways to do so with the addition of Butter Pecan to our low glycemic line of ice cream flavors,” says Richard Graeter, fourth-generation owner of Graeter’s Ice Cream. “We enlisted the help of medical professionals to understand the struggles people with dietary restrictions face, and found that professionals in the health industry overwhelmingly support this product as a means to empower individuals to make smarter decisions about the treats in which they indulge.”
Graeter’s Butter Pecan Ice Cream, available this spring as the newest addition to the low glycemic line, is no exception. Roasted pecans are folded into delectable milk and cream sweetened by vanilla and butter to create the beloved American flavor. “We take great care to develop and test new products that meet the very high standards our customers enjoy, and this product line was no exception,” added Graeter.
“We were not content to put a product on the shelves until we were confident that it tasted as good as our full-sugar line of premium ice cream flavors — and this definitely does.”
As the only commercial ice cream manufacturer in the world to use a French pot process, Graeter’s Ice Cream’s 2 ½ gallon batches are the smallest in the industry and help to maintain the quality for which Graeter’s has come to be known.
Graeter’s Ice Cream produces craft ice cream and gelato lines using a small-batch, artisanal method of production dating back over a century. Graeter’s has won the hearts of ice cream enthusiasts across the country as well as the respect of the nation’s most influential foodies. The Cincinnati-based company remains family-owned and operated and continues to handcraft ice cream 2½ gallons at a time. Today, Graeter’s has 40 retail stores and ships over 300,000 pints annually for online mail order sales. Graeter’s can also be found in more than 6,000 grocery stores in 46 states. Visit www.graeters.com for more information.
After trying this recipe you'll never want to skip breakfast again. A chocolatey treat so tasty it is my favorite breakfast recipe. The best part? It's something even your kids can help make it's so easy! The secret ingredient is our butter buns for this recipe, they provide a much richer flavor.
Steve Hellmich's, Graeter’s Head Chef
FRENCH TOAST BURGERS
Yield: 2 servings Servings: 2 Prep Time: 5m Cook Time: 5m Ready In: 15m
Chocolate Whipped Cream
- • One cup of cold heavy cream
- • 2 tablespoons of Graeters Bittersweet Dessert Sauce
- • 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
To make our chocolate whipped cream, start by adding the three ingredients together in a cold mixing bowl, add powdered sugar to taste, and whisk until firm peaks.
More bittersweet topping can be added in the beginning if a stronger chocolate taste it desired.
French Toast Burgers
- • Graeter's Hamburger Buns (available at select Graeter retail stores)
- • 2 eggs
- • 1 tsp. sugar
- • Pinch of cinnamon
- • ½ cup milk
Combine the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and milk in a bowl and whisk together. Be sure to whisk together well.
Preheat a frying pan, skillet or griddle on medium heat. Use cooking spray or a pat of butter.
Submerge the hamburger bun completely in the mixture and coat completely.
Place bread on griddle and cook on both sides until golden brown. It should take about 2 minutes per side but be SURE to check.
Sweeten the start of her Mother’s Day with these brunch treats straight from the kitchen of Graeter’s Head Chef, Steve Hellmich. As a trained chef working at Graeter’s he has concocted several mouth-watering recipes that incorporate the best of Graeter’s flavors.
Salted Caramel Coffee Chiller
For the coffee lover, we recommend our Salted Caramel Coffee Chiller, a creamy wake-me-up in a mug.
Simply blend the following ingredients:
- • 3oz Milk
- • 3oz Espresso Syrup
- • 6oz Graeter's Origianl Salted Caramel Ice Cream
- • 8oz Ice
Strawberry Sensation Smoothie
Not a coffee fan, not a problem! Our Strawberry Sensation Smoothie will bring a smile to anyone’s face.
Simply blend the following ingredients:
- • 3oz Orange Juice
- • 3oz Fresh Strawberries
- • 6oz Raspberry Sorbet
- • 1 whole Banana
- • 8oz Ice
French Toast Burgers
Now for the real treat, French Toast Burgers! Yes, that’s right a breakfast brunch like no other, something you simply have to try and you’ll see why this is my favorite breakfast. View our French Toast Burgers Recipe.
Steve Hellmich, Graeter’s Head Chef
The votes are in! We are proud to have been selected as the 2015 The Munchies: People’s Choice Food Award Winner of most amazing tasting ice cream! And with such dedicated fans, it’s no wonder. They simply can’t get enough and are proud to admit it, with such rants as, “Enjoyed is an understatement” and “I am in LOVE with this flavor. It is so creamy, rich and the cherries are amazing, just like the chocolate chips.”
So how do we do it? Through an unbreakable commitment to stay true to our great great grandmother’s French Pot Process and undying love of only the finest, freshest ingredients. The result? Ice cream that is rich, creamy and packed with flavor. A taste you must try for yourself!