retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Talenti, the gelato and sorbet company, is asking fans to channel their inner gelato, which means that I currently find myself considering some unusual flavor combinations - Waffle Cone Mocha Pine Nut, Rolled Oat Mint Crumpet and Rice Krispie Treat Pinot Noir Nut.

Not exactly flavors that roll off the tip of your tongue, or are likely to leap into your grocery cart, but one-of-a-kind personalized creations based on my family and friends’ individual social media persona.

It’s all part of Talenti’s new promotion, in which a specially developed algorithm will analyze the words a person uses the most on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and place them into a flavor index and a list of 350 ingredients. Within minutes your persona is assigned a custom flavor based on how proportionately sweet, salty, spicy, sour or bitter you are.

So I’m admittedly a little concerned about my friends who were tagged as Praline Prune and Tangerine Crisped Rice.

One Facebook user was flummoxed when her flavor was revealed to be “Framboise Horchata Pie Crust?? … I don't even know what that is!” Another quickly responded “Framboise is raspberry, horchata is a sweet rice drink. Sounds good actually!”

The promotion runs through this Saturday, and Talenti promises that founder Josh Hochschuler will create a few of the selected flavors. Winners will be notified September 15. It’s a fascinating example of using social media to connect personally with consumers, and definitely more interactive than similar promotions, such as Lay’s current Do Us a Flavor contest, which last year generated 14 million entries for a new product idea. (The 2014 $1 million winner was Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger.)

And also not surprising given the skyrocketing success of Talenti Gelato & Sorbetto. Talenti began as a storefront gelateria in Dallas in 2003 and is now the best-selling packaged gelato in the U.S., with sales expected to eclipse $120 million this year. It was purchased by Unilever for an undisclosed price last December.

Hochschuler and partner Steve Gill see themselves as market disruptors, shaking up the frozen dessert business just as Chobani disrupted the traditional yogurt sector. Talenti has a fervent fan base, and is known for its sourced natural ingredients (such as Belgian Callebaut chocolate and Tahitian vanilla beans from Papua, New Guinea) and distinctive clear, recyclable, BPA-free containers. The favorite existing flavor in our house is Caramel Sea Salt.

While it will be difficult to quantify whether this campaign will definitively drive sales, it has already achieved its goal of generating excitement about the brand and a lively, personal connection with its consumers. And the lesson for retailers is you don’t need an algorithm to do that, just a engaging approach to connecting with your customers on social media and in the store.

That is certainly the case at stores such as Trader Joe’s and Costco, where shoppers crowd the free sample tables, and at Stew Leonard’s, the home of real and costumed cows on site and other family attractions alongside produce, dairy and private label specialties.

And for Talenti, disrupt and engage are clearly two key ingredients for success.

If you're interested in finding your inner gelato, and you are an active Facebook, Twitter or Instagram user, click here.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .
KC's View: