Nearly two years after acquring a similarly named competitor in the nation’s capital, Skowhegan-based Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream is preparing a major push into the Washington, D.C., market, company executives said. A sales force representing the Maine company has been gearing up for the blitz, knocking on the doors of restaurants, ice cream stands and grocery stores.
If the effort is successful, the relatively tiny Maine company will firmly establish itself among its major national competitors throughout the Atlantic seaboard.
In one sense, they’re selling ice cream, said Lindsay Skilling, Gifford’s general manager.
In another sense, they’re selling Maine.
“It’s Maine. It’s Vacationland,” Skilling said. “It just has this kind of unique innocence about it, I guess. It’s refreshing for visitors to come to Maine and we have farms and lakes and fields. I really think that’s a draw.”
The unique appeal of Maine’s character has brought millions of visitors to the state for decades. The Gifford family opened its first ice cream stand in Skowhegan in 1980.
Many of those visitors have gone back to their home states with a taste for Maine, whether it be the company’s Mt. Katahdin Crunch, Maine Moose Tracks, Golden Pond Butter Brittle or the L.L. Bean-themed Muddy Boots.
Skilling said the company’s sales have grown 7 percent to 10 percent each year for the last several years. Half-gallons of the company’s products can be found throughout northern New England, while ice cream in the quart-sized containers are in dairy chests as far south as New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Midwesterners also have access to the Maine product; it is available in Chicago and Michigan, among other areas.
Southern markets are particularly valuable because the warmer climate means a longer ice-cream season. In Maine, ice cream stands are shuttered throughout the long, snowy winter.
The Gifford’s business model, Skilling said, rules out undercutting competitors prices.
“We’re premium ice cream,” she said. “It’s a creamier product. If we sell pistachio ice cream, it’s actually pistachios and not almonds.”
Gifford’s to expansion into the Washington market came a few years ago, after the family learned that a completely separate product was being marketed in the area under a very similar name — Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy Co.
It was disquieting at first, Skilling said.
“We were getting closer to that Maryland market, and it would have been completely confusing.”
But their interaction with that company was so positive that it led to an opportunity, and the Maine company bought the out-of-state ice cream maker, opening markets in the mid-Atlantic through the acquired company’s established distribution channels.
Later this summer, Gifford’s plans to unleash a major marketing campaign in the Washington area to expand consumer sales in the region. Skilling said she wasn’t able to release the details of the campaign yet but said it would be involve “some fun with the residents down there and to let them know that Gifford’s from Maine is there.”