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To Top It Off

A franchise finds its customers will gobble up almost anything, including bugs.

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As the country got caught up in "Survivor" fever this summer, Cold Stone Creamery came up with a way to capitalize on the mania: the Summer Survival promotion. Customers got scratch-off game pieces every time they visited one of the chain's ice cream stores; some would win free ice cream, others got letters they would save to spell out "I Survived." Those who collected all the letters were entered into a drawing for a trip to the Australian camp where the second "Survivor" was filmed.

But that wasn't all that brought adventure-minded customers through the doors of this ice cream franchise. As part of Summer Survival, the chain introduced chocolate-covered crickets to its toppings menu of mix-ins, fruit, cookies and candies.

"We had been looking for a way to show our love for the ice cream, and we just thought this was a great idea," says Brian Curin, Cold Stone's director of marketing. "It was gourmet chocolate, they were gourmet crickets made just for this purpose, and we thought it would be a great idea to go ahead and throw them in and challenge our consumers to show their passion for the concept by eating the ice cream with the crickets mixed in."

Those brave enough to try the entomological treat were rewarded with a coupon for free ice cream. Franchisees and employees who were also invited to try the crickets discovered the little insects weren't that bad. "They look like real crickets, so it's tough to get past that, but once you pop them in your mouth, they taste kind of like chocolate-covered potato chips," Curin says.

That taste helped Cold Stone's systemwide sales climb 8 percent this summer. The critters also attracted the attention of CBS's "The Early Show."

The success and the attention proved to the company that its walk on the weird side was worthwhile. "I think the number-one thing we learned is that if we just have fun with what we do, it's going to be successful," Curin says.

And he encourages other franchises to do the same. "My advice would be to go for it," he says. "You have to go with your gut."

The downside to pulling off something like this is figuring out how to top yourself, a task Curin and his marketing team are already mulling. "I don't know if we'll put any more bugs in our ice cream," he says. "We've got some big things planned for 2002, but I don't think you'll see any type of bug on our ice cream in the near future."