Greenwich resident brings back the Chipwich
One of the biggest hurdles for David Clarke to overcome with his new business venture isn’t a lack of brand recognition, but, in a way, too much.
Last year, Clarke bought the trademark for Chipwich, which has been ranked as one of America’s most iconic snacks. It’s that summer staple featuring vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate chips and sandwiched between soft chocolate chip cookies. Seven years after the Chipwich disappeared from shelves, the Greenwich resident and longtime food industry executive has reintroduced it into stores across the country.
Plenty of companies sell something similar to the Chipwich, but the real thing is “substantially better,” Clarke said with conviction during a recent interview. “The industry seems to think consumers don’t care about their ice cream. ...I’m convinced consumers will buy the better ice cream,” he said.
The original Chipwich was created by Richard LaMotta, who began selling the treat in New York City via street-cart vendors in the 1980s. In 2002, CoolBrands International took over the business before it traded hands to Nestle, which ultimately stopped making it.
Clarke considers it a shame that the ice cream delicacy was lost for a time, but he also saw it as a business opportunity. Following a career working with consumer packaged goods brands, including PepsiCo, Haagen Dazs and DeMet’s Candy Company, he was recruited by Massachusetts-based private equity firm Cannon Capital to lead a business it planned to acquire. That deal fell through, but they later formed Crave Better Foods as a parent company to buy the trademark for Chipwich.
Before buying Chipwich, they hired a market research firm to evaluate how familiar consumers are with the brand. The positive results convinced Clarke to make the investment. More than half of respondents had heard of Chipwich, which is on par with major ice cream brands, Clarke said, 70 percent of people who already buy “novelty” ice cream products said they would consider getting a Chipwich and some said they believed they’d bought a Chipwich in the last year.
Clarke doesn’t view it as a problem, but the Chipwich is so well known that “the word has become bigger than the brand,” he said. Chipwiches have been mentioned on The Simpsons and regularly featured on ABC TV show Fresh Off the Boat.
For Clarke, educating consumers that the Chipwich is his product, not just any chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, is a far easier endeavor than generating brand awareness about a totally new product. “I just have to remind people that it’s a thing, not just a word,” he said.
Beyond the popular brand, Clarke is confident his real Chipwich will win over customers because it tastes much better than its competition, he said. It comes down to how they’re made with more butterfat and less air than many other frozen dairy products seen at supermarkets. Eventually, Crave may expand its portfolio to include more frozen products, but they’re focusing on Chipwich for now, Clarke said.
In addition to his own experience, Clarke credits the idea for his new venture to watching his father, Henry DeBrunner Clarke Jr., undertake a similar endeavor. In the 1970s, Henry Clarke’s company Clabir bought the rights to Klondike bars, those vanilla ice cream squares encased in chocolate. Under Henry Clarke’s ownership, the Klondike bar gained national recognition.
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