When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in 2015, an avalanche of corresponding licensed foods hit market shelves. The only thing that branded products like Stormtrooper Campbell’s soup, Han Solo Pop-Tarts and R2-D2 Coffee Mate creamer had in common was their outrageous commercialism. On the other end of spectrum were the high quality Star Wars-branded ice creams from Brooklyn-based Ample Hills Creamery, created from scratch specifically to honor the film. The two flavours—The Light Side and The Dark Side—quickly sold out of its 40,000 pints.
To promote Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opening on December 15th, the Force is once again with Ample Hills. This year, they’ve created three flavours to tell the story: The First Order (salted dark chocolate with chocolate chunks), The Resistance (brown sugar vanilla bean ice cream, and chunks of red velvet cake, butter cake, toffee pieces, and mini-marshmallows), and The Force (sweet cream ice cream with swirls of chocolate fudge, plus white and dark chocolate Valrhona pearls).
Starting Monday, 40 Whole Foods locations in the Northeast, the FreshDirect website, Ample Hills Creamery locations in New York and New Jersey, as well as amplehills.com, will offer the ice cream.
The unlikely alliance of a small Brooklyn ice cream maker with the mega Star Wars franchise came about because Brian Smith, CEO of Ample Hills, had the good fortune to once upon a time sell a few pints to Bob Iger, the CEO of Walt Disney Co. The two hit it off, and Iger offered his business mentorship. That has taken Ample Hills from a Star Wars licensing deal to a shop in Walt Disney World and a new factory in Brooklyn, capable of producing a million gallons of ice cream annually. Iger has zero money invested.
“I envisioned being able to help him in a Disney way and (investment) would have deprived him of that relationship,” Iger told Bloomberg.
Though December isn’t prime ice cream weather, those pints and corresponding merchandise are key to Disney’s bottom line. As movie ticket sales tank, it’s the licensed product sales attached to a film that deliver huge results. In 2015, analysts reported that Star Wars merchandise generated $3 billion in sales. (And that’s peanuts compared to the bigger licensing picture. When Disney agreed to buy Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, it had its sights set on the annual sales of licensed merchandise, which the Licensing Industry Marketing Association reported rose globally across the board 4.2 percent to $251.7 billion in 2015.)
Ice cream itself won’t pull in billions for Disney—the Ample deal is a royalty payment with Disney sharing in the sale of every pint, which will cost about $10 each—but the product has earned a starfighter jet’s worth of good vibes for everyone involved. Licensing for Smith didn’t mean slapping a logo on a product just to raise visibility and sell more units. “We’re stewards of something that has this great and powerful emotional resonance for people. I don’t want to mess that up,” says Smith.
Without access to a single script or screener, Smith used his own vast understanding of the galaxy far, far away (he’s a former sci fi writer and huge Star Wars fan), as well as the expertise of his IT guy, Robb Shandroff, to dream up the flavours. Smith also watched the trailers on YouTube, over and over and over. To create the ice creams, Ample Hills needed to first create a narrative. “We think of a story and then a flavour that draws on that story. We don’t come up with the flavour and put the story on it,” says Smith.
Smith decided that The Last Jedi required three flavours to bring the latest Star Wars chapter to life in an ice cream container. But translating characters into a frozen dessert can be complicated. “Ultimately the process of making new flavours is the relatively easy part,” he says. Do it enough times and it becomes second nature. “What’s difficult is to give it context and life beyond the sum of its parts.”
With his three flavours, Smith created a sensory experience. “The First Order,” which Smith describes as pure, monolithic evil—the bad guys—is pure salted dark chocolate ice cream (with Guittard cocoa powder and 72% chocolate pieces). “The Resistance” is brown sugar vanilla bean ice cream (because brown is the color of the uniforms) and chunks of red velvet, ooey-gooey butter cake, toffee pieces, and mini-marshmallows.
“The Force,” a sweet cream ice cream (representing the light side), has swirls of chocolate fudge (the dark side) plus white and dark chocolate Valrhona pearls, which is about the balance of the force, the light and the dark. “Those three things are all different: chewy, scrunchy and squishy. It’s a nice counterpoint to the purity of the evil in the First Order,” says Smith.
The flavours can be bought separately in store, and online the flavours in packs of three that come in a special, limited-edition Star Wars box that turns into a fighter pilot. Cue the John Williams’ theme song. And stay tuned as to whether the just-announced new Star Wars trilogy, rolling out after 2020, means there’s a universe of new themed Ample Hills flavors yet to come.