(Bloomberg) — As every American knows by now, on Sunday, July 18, the country celebrates National Ice Cream Day.
Tamara Keefe, founder of the St. Louis mini-chain Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Ice Cream, is ready. “It’s our busiest day of the year in terms of customers and revenue,” she says. Keefe estimates that “on a super busy hot summer Saturday, we’ll do 1,000 or 1,100 people.” On National Ice Cream day, that number rises to range from 1,500 to 2,000. “Sales are almost double.”
It will be hard for Keefe to beat last year’s performance. During the pandemic, she saw a notable spike at her single open store on National Ice Cream Day. “We had 2,500 people in that location. We did about $15,000 in sales that day.”
National Ice Cream Day, which was inaugurated in 1984 by President Ronald Reagan and is celebrated on the third Sunday of July, is one of the biggest food and beverage holidays that bombard people’s social media feeds and inboxes. The occasions commemorate everything from baked ham with pineapple (April 16) to moldy cheese (Oct. 9) to ‘pizza with the works except anchovies’ (Nov. 12).
They’re a powerful marketing tool—never more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ben Van Leeuwen, founder of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, says Ice Cream Day “is a big deal for us. We always see an increase in sales of 15% to 20%.” He anticipates that his company will see a bump of up to 20% this year as well, even though it won’t include the viral Mac & Cheese ice cream collaboration with Kraft Foods Group Inc. That creation, which honored Mac & Cheese Day (July 14), sold out online in an hour.
At Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, and has 59 shops around the country, founder Jeni Britton Bauer traditionally dismissed National Ice Cream Day. “I’ve always thought it was low-hanging fruit—that it doesn’t pay off that much but gives you something to talk about.” Still, in 2020, her stores drew about a 15% increase in sales, compared to an average summer Sunday.
A notable amalgamator of food days is NationalToday,com, which lists all manner of holidays but pays special attention to food and drink. It categorizes more than 300 major food holidays and over 700 minor ones. The platform was founded in 2017 by Ben Kaplan and is owned by TOP Worldwide, an Austin, Texas-based marketing company with outposts in more than 20 countries.
One way a food holiday can get started is as ice cream made it—by government proclamation. One can also gain traction if backed by a brand that want to promote a singular product or by passionate individuals who want their favorite snack to get time in the limelight. “Some have an unknown origin but are now engrained in the consumer mindset, so they get celebrated,” says Kaplan.
A fee must cover creation of a holiday, if it’s approved. “It’s often in the thousands of dollars,” he adds. “Businesses and brands can also choose if they want our help with influencers, social media, digital content, or PR campaigns related to the holiday.”
International Dark ‘n Stormy Day is one of the newer holidays on National Today’s calendar. It kicked off in 2020 by designating June 9 as the official day of the rum-and-ginger beer highball. During the preliminary six months of negotiations with National Today, Goslings Rum, which has trademarked the cocktail, had to submit background material to prove its legitimacy. “We provided a copy of the Dark ‘n Stormy trademark certificate. It helped that June 9, 2020, was the 40th anniversary of the trademark,” says Malcolm Gosling Jr., whose family founded the company.
In June 2020, Goslings’ sales increased 600% on the e-commerce platform Drizly during the June week of Dark ‘n Stormy Day promotions, compared to the same week in 2019. (That shift is also attributable to movement in online orders during the pandemic.)
Lifestyle Holiday Fatigue
Such big sales spikes on national food and drink days may be temporary, however. Last year, when many restaurants were closed and people were shut up in their homes, a local ice cream cone became even more significant, especially for social media and hashtag purposes. Now that places are opening back up, French Fry Day (July 13) may seem less important.
This year, Goslings has noted a drop in interest around the national holiday. Though the rum had double-digit growth in June in the U.S. this year, “we saw a more enthusiastic reaction from businesses jumping on board the Dark ‘n Stormy Day promo train in Europe,” says brand director Laura Baughman. “This may point to an affinity for these lifestyle holidays among Europeans more so than Americans, who might be experiencing some fatigue around lifestyle holidays.” National Today’s Kaplan agrees, saying there is “huge interest in food holidays in the U.K., Italy, Australia, and India.” He adds: “Consumer engagement on most holidays doubled during the pandemic.”
In 2020, Casa Dragones benefited from its July 24 celebration of National Tequila Day. Sales at the tequila company were up about 30% compared to the previous week, according to founder Bertha Gonzalez. “National Tequila Day was particularly impactful for us last year,” she says. Casa Dragones hosted Instagram Live classes with celebrities such as Lily Aldridge, and the events garnered 447,000 impressions.
“What we saw was that, compared to the previous year, our online sales with Reservebar.com grew over 200% year over year,” says Gonzalez. She believes that this year’s National Tequila Day will bring another sales spike, but she’s unsure whether it will match last year’s. “I’m open to being surprised,” says Gonzalez.
In the two-week lead-up to this year’s Gin & Tonic Day on April 9, Fever-Tree, a vendor of mixers, saw an 11% jump in tonic water sales. That’s a dramatic decrease from 2020, when the company saw a 300% increase in the seven days leading up to G&T day, according to Charles Gibb, chief executive officer of Fever-Tree North America.
Even products that might seem impervious to national food days often see a spike in sales. On last year’s National Junk Food Day (July 21), the soda category saw a 12% jump in demand compared to average daily sales for the rest of the year, according to Pattern, a global e-commerce company. Its data indicate that the jump might happen again this year; so far, year-over-year demand for soda is up 13%.
Ice Cream for Breakfast Day
Sometimes the less obvious days are the most impactful. Bauer from Jeni’s Ice Cream favors Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, celebrated on the first Saturday in February, over the July 18 national day. The rule-breaking holiday was started in the 1960s by a woman in Rochester, N.Y., as a way to entertain her children during a snowstorm. “We own Ice Cream for Breakfast Day,” says Bauer. That day, Jeni’s stores open early at 8 a.m. Until noon, 100% of the profits are donated to such charities as the social change site DoSomething.org. Jeni’s also typically uses the day to debut a new flavor, such as Everything Bagel.
Keefe from Clementine’s goes big on that holiday, too. “It’s huge for us. Last year we did a collaboration with Tiffany & Co. for the 60th anniversary of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Her St. Louis shops featured “Breakfast at Clementine’s” and gave away Tiffany gift cards to customers dressed like Audrey Hepburn. “It’s February, people are bored, they wait in line around the block,” says Bauer. “It’s beyond silly, but it’s also powerful.”