Annika Tunberg has one of the sweetest jobs around, which she related to a pair of classes at Monmouth College recently.
Vice president of Whitey’s Ice Cream in the Quad Cities, Tunberg spoke Oct. 26 with students in classes that focus on digital marketing and the supply chain. Of course, she brought tasty samples, giving the students a chance to try three of her company’s fall flavors – pumpkin, carrot cake and graham cracker.
The main takeaway from Tunberg’s marketing presentation is that Whitey’s chooses not to spend money on traditional advertising, relying instead on the company’s very solid word-of-mouth reputation. She said that revenue that would be spent on commercials and print advertising is instead funneled back into the community, such as when Whitey’s annually provides thousands of free popsicles for the runners who take part in the Bix 7 road race in steamy July, according to a Wednesday release from the college.
“We steer clear of paid advertising,” she said. “All of our advertising dollars go to sponsorships and donations.”
Whitey’s stays in touch with its customers through social media, as it has more than 60,000 followers on Facebook and more than 15,000 followers on Instagram. “We have such a strong fan base in the Quad Cities,” said Tunberg.
Earlier in July, Whitey’s steps up for another large sporting event, selling its Chipper ice cream sandwiches at the John Deere Classic, a PGA Tour stop played in Silvis. The company has been part of the event for 48 of its 50 years.
Those Chipper sales are one reason the Whitey’s employs a full-time baker, as that individual oversees the production of roughly 400,000 cookies per year, in addition to the carrot cakes that go into the specialty ice cream flavor.
We all scream for ice cream
Founded in 1933 (its moniker is founder Chester Lindgren’s nickname, because of his white-blonde hair), Whitey’s soon became a Tunberg family business, thanks to Annika’s grandfather, who started working at the shop in 1935 at the age of 15.
Its current leaders are Annika’s father, Jon Tunberg, and his brother, Jeff Tunberg. Jeff’s daughter, 2008 Monmouth graduate Jenny Tunberg, is also part of the management team, and she oversees two of the company’s stores on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities. In all, Whitey’s has eight QC locations, evenly split between Iowa and Illinois.
Annika Tunberg told the class that she returned to the QC after working in the fashion and beauty industry in New York City and for Budweiser in Chicago. She now has a wider audience for the product she endorses.
“Pretty much everybody eats ice cream,” she said. “Our audience is pretty much everybody.”
Although Tunberg has that big-city marketing experience, some of her top lessons in business have come from Whitey’s.
“My grandpa’s philosophy was you don’t want your customers having to guess when you’re open,” she said of some ice cream shops closing for the winter. “Besides, there’s always someone who wants ice cream.”
Madagascar, France and Mexico
And that ice cream is made with the finest ingredients, including vanilla that Whitey’s purchases from Madagascar for up to $500 per gallon, the Monmouth release said.
“We don’t cut corners,” said Tunberg, who said the company also brings in raspberries from France and strawberries from Mexico, part of Whitey’s chain of 150 suppliers. “We like to make things like we like to eat them.”
The company uses plenty of Oreo cookies for its creations, but another cookie was not received as well by QC-area consumers.
“You never know what specialty flavors are going to hit,” said Tunberg. “We featured a Nilla Wafers flavor a while back, and it didn’t go over at all. But then we offered a lemon bar shake that I didn’t think would be that popular, and we sold 12,000 in a month. Sales were surprisingly good.”
Predictably, creations such as a brownie batter shake and a birthday cake shake were also big hits, and Tunberg noted that pumpkin ice cream is a big driver of traffic to the store.
“We start getting calls in June about when it’s going to come out,” she said.
Another lesson she passed on to the class was what to do about the other establishments in the QC that sell frozen treats.
“We don’t tend to look at our competition,” she said. “If you worry about what the others are doing, you’re not going to worry about your own product.”
One recent development that appears to be here to stay is more drive-through service. The pandemic forced Whitey’s to resort to that method as its only type of sales for several months. But even now that in-store service is back to normal, adding more drive-through availability has become a priority for customers who’ve gotten used to the convenience.