With the level of hype surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens–not to mention the spike in “sick days” that will undoubtedly plague companies worldwide–December 18 should just go ahead and become a holiday: Movie theaters are selling out pre-sale tickets, analysts are predicting box office records shattering that of Avatar‘s $2.8 billion success, and, of course, Disney is pimping out its lucrative and immensely beloved franchise to brands with fevered gusto.
Got a boo-boo? Star Wars Band-Aids! Feeling hungry? Star Wars Campbell’s soup!
Need to look fierce? Star Wars CoverGirl makeup!
Clearly the team at Disney Consumer Products is gunning for brand heavyweights, but there’s one company of considerably less public stature that not only landed Star Wars licensing but also got a personal blessing from the Disney god himself, Bob Iger.
Starting December 9, Brooklyn-based creamery Ample Hills will start shipping four-pack pints of its limited-edition Star Wars ice cream. There’s “The Light Side,” a marshmallow ice cream with chunks of crispy treats, and “The Dark Side,” a dark chocolate ice cream with espresso fudge brownies. So just how did an ice cream shop with only three locations to its name score a deal with one of the biggest franchises of all time?
Last summer, Ample Hills owner Brian Smith says Disney CEO Bob Iger ordered Ample Hills ice cream online and it was love at first scoop.
“He became a fan and reached out to me and asked if I ever needed anything to let him know,” Smith says. “Since then he has become a mentor and an incredible help in thinking through our growth.”
Part of that growth includes a recent equity raise of $4 million to help build a larger factory and more ice cream shops, as well as expand Ample Hills’ presence in grocery stores.
“He’s just been instrumental in helping me think through how to take what’s a very small, mom-and-pop organization and turn it into a larger ‘more real’ company,” Smith says of Iger. “I correspond with him all the time and he’s just been very helpful.”
Having the CEO of Disney as pretty much your godfather is a sweet deal in itself. However, it gets even sweeter when you ask a favor he simply cannot refuse.
“As soon as we made the connection with Bob and saw that he was a fan and was helping with so many things in terms of advice and the suggestions, I knew that for me the end-all would be able to pitch to him the idea of doing Star Wars ice cream,” Smith says. “So I pitched it directly to him and he was excited about it and passed it on over to the folks at [Lucasfilm] and to [The Force Awakens director] J.J. Abrams.”
After receiving approval from all parties, Smith set to work creating Star Wars-inspired flavors that wouldn’t just be regular Ample Hills ice with “Star Wars” plastered on the pints, but would be ice cream that tells a story. In addition to the marshmallow ice cream and crispy chunks, “The Light Side” also has bits of cocoa crisps (“to represent the dark side still lurking within the light”) and The Dark Side has white chocolate pearls throughout (“to represent the light still hiding in the dark, waiting to burst through”).
Storytelling through ice cream is by no means a novel concept for Ample Hills. As a former screenwriter of what he calls “very bad sci-fi movies,” Smith has always held a strong interest in conveying stories through any medium–ice cream included. For example, each Ample Hills location has an ice cream flavor unique to its location. The shop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus has the dark, salted fudge concoction “It Came From Gowanus,” a play on both Smith’s days as a TV-movie-of-the-week sci-fi writer and on the Gowanus canal’s questionable levels of toxicity.
“From the first day of opening our very first ice cream shop, I was really interested in inviting people into the narrative of ice cream and how their ice cream was made,” Smith says. And it says something of your brand when the likes of Bob Iger becomes an active listener of your story.
“I can’t think of anybody I admire more than a big CEO of a big company that is focused on creativity and authenticity of what they’re building and doing,” Smith says. “I keep pinching myself every day.”