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Consumer Trends

These 10 chains scoop the most craveable ice cream

These are the restaurant chains that serve the best ice cream, according to Technomic Ignite consumer data. Some of the names may surprise you.
Various ice cream cones
Photograph: Shutterstock

Eating an ice cream cone on a hot summer day is an unbeatable way to beat the heat. While Americans love their ice cream, they prefer certain chains over others to satisfy their cravings. Restaurant Business sister company Technomic surveyed consumers to rank those concepts with the most craveable ice cream and frozen desserts. These 10 rose to the top, listed in descending order.  

10. Steak ‘n Shake

Just over one-quarter (25.6%) of those surveyed chose Steak ‘n Shake as their top pick. Perhaps that’s because the chain isn’t known as a scoop shop; it’s a destination for burgers and shakes rather than cones. But those who come here crave the fudge sundaes and shakes made with “real ice cream.” The dark chocolate shake with semisweet morsels and whipped cream is cited as a favorite, as is the banana vanilla shake.

9. Shake Shack

Coming in at No. 9 is Shake Shack, with 29.3% of consumers choosing its ice cream as craveable. When Danny Meyer opened the first Shake Shack in 2001 in a New York City park, customers waited on line for the frozen custard and super-thick concretes as much as they did for the hot dogs and burgers. Those frozen treats are still a draw, with one respondent saying “I especially crave their grape and root beer floats.”

8. Friendly’s

Friendly’s started out as an ice cream concept but its broad menu now includes sandwiches, salads, entrees and more. Customers still crave the chain’s ice cream, with 33.3% finding it craveable. It’s the only full-service spot on the list, with the ice cream sundaes mentioned above all else. Noted one respondent: “I was really craving a sundae and the Reese’s Pieces sundae was amazing.” Another satisfied a craving with a vanilla sundae with chocolate syrup and whipped cream, while others used “awesome” and “delightful” to describe Friendly’s sundaes.

7. Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

Landing in seventh place is Freddy’s, with 36.6% of consumers heading there to feed their cravings. “Their frozen desserts are one of a kind and my kids love them,” responded one of those surveyed, with another saying “their custard is amazing; I love the concretes and sundaes.” Freddy’s fans agree that the sundaes and frozen custard are craveable items they can only get here.

6. Dairy Queen

Coming in next is Dairy Queen, chosen as craveable by 38.2% of respondents. Like Friendly’s, DQ got its start selling ice cream and shakes, branding theirs as “blizzards.” The menu now offers food as well, but those frozen treats are still best sellers. “Love the Blizzards” and “Blizzards are best from here; no one does it better,” are two of the comments. The Oreo and pumpkin pie Blizzards are two favorites. Consumers also crave the ice cream sundaes, especially the hot fudge version, and “Banana Splits were the best to get for the money,” claims a respondent.

5. Culver’s

Culver’s is a favorite with 41.6% of consumers, securing the No. 5 spot in the ranking. Respondents especially crave the chain’s frozen custard, a style that is more scoopable than the soft-serve version popular elsewhere. “Their custard is so rich and creamy and far better than anywhere else,” said one.” The chain also differentiates its frozen desserts with craveable flavors. Consumers mentioned sundaes in caramel pecan and turtle flavors as top choices, along with Culver’s various milkshakes.

4. Cold Stone Creamery

A little over half of respondents—50.8%—chose Cold Stone as the most craveable ice cream chain. Unique flavors seem to be a selling point here. Prime picks include the chocolate devotion with pieces of fudge brownie, apple caramel, birthday cake remix and peanut butter cup ice creams. “Their ice cream tastes like homemade and I love any and all the creations they have,” notes one comment. The variety also appeals, with ice cream cakes and waffle bowls singled out.

3. Carvel

Of those surveyed, 59.3% find Carvel’s ice cream to be the most craveable. The chain’s signature is soft-serve ice cream in “every flavor imaginable,” to quote one respondent. “Chocolate chip cookie dough is the best,” said another, while others prefer banana, rocky road and peanut butter flavors. But a number of purists crave vanilla or chocolate, Carvel’s original flavors. “Even though I can get chocolate soft serve anywhere, I tend to crave Carvel’s specifically. Their ice cream is exceptional,” raves a fan.

2. Ben & Jerry’s

In second place is Ben & Jerry’s, with 63.2% of respondents finding this ice cream brand very craveable. Here again, signature flavors are a lure. “The craveable items are the unique flavor combinations they offer,” is one comment and “the flavors are unique and craveable,” echoes that response.

1. Baskin-Robbins

And the No. 1 most craveable ice cream is Baskin-Robbins, with 66.4% of consumers choosing it above all others. “Best coffee ice cream when you crave that flavor,” according to one respondent, and “I love the Heath Bar Crunch and some of the variations on chocolate that are available,” said another. A self-professed chocolate freak sums up the appeal of Baskin-Robbins: “The chocolate ice cream is smooth and creamy. Other places have chocolate ice cream, but not like this.”

The data was compiled by Technomic Ignite Consumer, tracking responses from Q3 2021 to Q2 2022.

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