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Americans scream for boozy ice cream, but Charleston maker says women are biggest fans

Alcoholic ice pops have become a Lowcountry fixture, with vendors selling them out of vans parked on downtown street corners and rolling through suburban subdivisions.

But plenty of Americans haven’t experienced booze fused with dessert, according to research recently released by industry trend analysts.

According to Datassential, at least 30 percent of almost 500 dessert-eaters surveyed want to try an alcoholic popsicle. Transparency Market Research's study estimates that number will skyrocket by 2027.

What the numbers don’t show is the gender split that founders of a boozy ice cream outfit off Clements Ferry Road in Charleston say has emerged as a defining aspect of their business. Jason Kirby of Hardscoop reports women make up the majority of his customers and are responsible for 75 percent of the company’s Instagram interactions.

And the company has lately pivoted to put those fans’ perceived preferences first.

When Hardscoop launched in 2017, it didn’t aim to cultivate a specific demographic. Like many new business owners, Kirby assumed his product would resonate equally with everyone who had the good fortune to try it. But the marketing of chocolate, vanilla and coffee ice cream amped up with 16 proof grain neutral spirits took on a decidedly macho dimension.

For instance, when Mount Pleasant Magazine in late 2017 checked in with Hardscoop, Kirby noted that “nothing brings people together like liquor and ice cream,” pointing out that he filled the tasting room with friends and relatives for the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor fight.

Nothing about the new branding strategy screams combat fight.

In fact, Hardscoop’s new baby blue, mango orange and canary yellow pints barely whisper that buyers will find cold brew coffee, sea salt caramel, “Simply strawberry” or “Carolina peach” ice cream inside. The typeface on the pastel containers is a cautious cursive, somewhat reminiscent of the script associated with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.

sea salt caramel making.jpg

Chris Ledbetter stirs as Jason Kirby pours in cream as they make their sea salt caramel ice cream at Hardscoop Ice Cream distillery Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Like fellow major ice cream players Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, Jeni’s only churns out ice cream with trace amounts of alcohol, such as Middle West Whiskey & Pecans and Frose Sorbet. Still, Kirby thinks Hardscoop belongs in the same conversations as the Ohio-based giant.

"If you're an adult, we want this to be absolutely on par with any other high-end, superior-quality ice cream like Jeni's but with booze," Kirby said. 

In addition to changing up its packaging, Hardscoop during the pandemic filed papers to make its ice cream with wine instead of liquor. That switch enabled Hardscoop to ship ice cream nationwide in a customized shipping box with a Styrofoam interior, dry ice compartment and space for six pints. The company last week launched its out-of-state delivery program.

Hardscoop Shipping Box - Horizontal.jpg

Hardscoop's new wine-based flavors and shipping box that can be delivered straight to customer's doors. Provided

"We want to be the Willy Wonka of the alcohol world," Kirby said, alluding to the candy-colored cartons.

Of course, Willy Wonka could take tomorrow and dip it in a dream because the resulting sweet didn’t have an ABV of 8 to 10.5 percent. Alcoholic ice cream is not considered a great snack for children, which has sparked some concerns about parents keeping the innocuous-looking pints in their freezers.

In retail stores, Hardscoop pints have a specific bar code that prompts the cashier to ID the purchaser, reducing the chance of sale to a minor.

Alcoholic ice cream is also becoming more popular in restaurant settings. In New York City, Tipsy Scoop in 2017 opened as an alternative to Manhattan bars serving Instagram-worthy boozy milkshakes and spiked slushies. The "barlour" serves rum, bourbon, vodka, tequila and sangria-infused ice cream flights in glasses and topped with sprinkles on a paddle, emulating a brewery tasting. 

“Perception towards alcohol has changed significantly across the globe, and people nowadays are giving positive response towards alcohol consumption," Transparency Market Research recently reported.

In other words, people like sugar and they like to drink.

Banking on Charleston consumers wanting to enjoy both in communal settings, Kirby is currently looking for a new, larger warehouse. He pictures an area for in-person events and gatherings where people can lounge on couches, spoons poised above pints. 

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Reach Kalyn Oyer at 843-371-4469. Follow her on Twitter @sound_wavves.

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