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The Politics of Ice Cream

Stewart’s Shops’ ‘Civility’ campaign gets positive reviews, but not everybody liked the flavor

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. -- In August, Stewart’s Shops rolled out a new ice cream flavor called Civility, along with a campaign promoting civility in the community. The flavor is vanilla ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and “no nuts.” For one week, Stewart’s Shops paid for half of each of the more than 40,000 Civility cones that it sold.

In a video posted to the convenience-store retailer's website (see below), Stewart’s Shops President Gary Dake recapped the intent of the Civility campaign and the public response.

“We had noticed a decline in civility in society, and we decided there was something we could do about it. We came out with an ice cream called Civility,” he said.

“The program wasn’t really about selling ice cream,” Dake said. “We really wanted to see if we could effect change in our community both by our partners and our customers. We were really encouraged by what we learned. We had many people comment to us about the change in attitudes. … And we feel great about that.”

Like Starbucks and its failed #RaceTogether campaign in 2015 that had baristas writing the hashtag on coffee cups as a “conversation starter,” the Stewart’s Shops campaign—while generally more positive in its reception and outcome—had unintended consequences. Some people were upset over the Stewart’s Shops promotion.

“They thought we were trying to comment about politics in their ice cream choices,” said Dake. “Believe me, politics is too heavy a lift for us to try to take at a convenience-store level. We were just trying to focus people on how to be nice to their neighbors, their family members, their co-workers and the people with whom they have daily interactions. … We think we can lick this problem by dealing with it with ice cream.”

Dake said he also had two customers reach out to say they were offended by the comment that the flavor contains “no nuts.” They thought it was unkind to people with mental disabilities.

“That certainly wasn’t our intent, and to those people I offended, I apologize,” he said.

He said that he also considers the campaign successful because an ice cream company in California asked if it could pick up and run with the Civility flavor and concept. “I was glad that they had the civility to ask us first, and of course, we said yes," he said. "It’s such an honor to be a leader in the field and to have others recognize the good work that we did.”

Meanwhile, Dake has been named the 2018 Executive of the Year by The Albany Business Review. The newspaper’s Achievers Awards is one of the most prestigious awards programs in the community, the chain said. The paper selects winners through a process that includes nominations from readers before the final panel selection.

Founded in 1945, Stewart’s Shops is an employee- and family-owned c-store chain based in Ballston Spa, N.Y. Its 336 Stewart’s Shops in 31 counties in upstate New York and southern Vermont offer milk, ice cream, coffee, food to go, gasoline and other convenience items. The retailer is No. 24 on CSP's 2018 Top 202 ranking of c-store chains by number of company-owned locations.


Gary Dake on Civility Ice Cream from Stewart's Shops Corp. on Vimeo




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