The freezer aisle at the local grocery store is full of newfangled ice cream, but most of the brands will have a hard time matching the success of Philadelphia-based Bassetts Ice Cream. For five generations, it has remained a family business and become a tradition for many other families because of the quality of its desserts.
“Everything starts with the quality of the product,” President Michael Strange says. “Our quality is the reason we’ve been around as long as we have, and we only use the finest-quality ingredients in our recipes.”
Born when the United States was divided by Civil War, Bassetts says its recipes were perfected in the 1930s. Today, it delivers products in the Philadelphia region and has distributors in other areas including New York, Florida and Chicago.
Bassetts also has one company owned retail location in Philadelphia’s historic Reading Terminal Market. The company has been there since 1892, longer than any other tenant. Although it has a successful retail model, the company prefers not to get involved in owning more stores or franchising. Instead, it sells products to ice cream shops that want to serve super-premium ice cream without being dictated to by a franchisor.
Only the Best
Maintaining the quality and consistency of its product while also adapting to changes in consumer tastes remains Bassetts’ No. 1 priority. The company is constantly developing new products and flavors to meet current demands, staying relevant in part by participating in social media. The company has more than 40 flavors, and launches two or three new flavors a year, such as green tea.
Upcoming efforts include Bassetts’ plan to soon launch a Belgian chocolate dipped caramel sea salt ice cream bar and a limited edition PBJ flavor (vanilla ice cream swirled with peanut butter and strawberry jelly) to commemorate the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 30th year. Although the ice cream recipe remains the same, products and flavors evolve as the market does.
“We get most of our new product and flavor ideas from our customers, and keeping up to date with trends requires listening and then being responsive,” Strange says.
Additionally, Bassetts looks for ways to upgrade its distribution and logistics systems and expand its reach into new markets. On the internal improvement side, Bassetts upgraded its computer hardware and software in the last year to help it improve tracking customers.
As for market expansion, nowhere is Bassetts growing more than in China. Chinese sales now represent about 20 percent of the company’s business. The company is developing several new items and flavors specifically for China.
One of these products is an ice cream mooncake. Typically given as a gift during China’s lunar cycles, it is a complicated product to make and includes a chocolate shell that is filled with ice cream and has a sorbet center.
Bassetts sees overseas markets as a large opportunity for growth because of the success it has had in frozen product exports. These efforts go beyond China, though, as the company is now looking at ways to identify customers in other parts of the world.
The company is doing that by leveraging relationships with external entities such as the USDA’s Food Export USA program and the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia. Organizations like these help Bassetts introduce itself to prospective customers around the world.
At the same time, the company recognizes it has many opportunities to expand domestically. Bassetts doesn’t have a huge presence west of Pennsylvania, other than Chicago. Strange says the East Coast offers new opportunities, also.
Having achieved so much over the last 150 years and counting, Bassetts is committed to continuing its heritage.
“We’ve managed to keep this a family business for so long because we’re always focused on maintaining the quality of the product,” Strange says. “Each generation has contributed to our longevity, and we’re committed to continuing to build on our legacy.”