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You order a pint of Ben & Jerry’s on Uber Eats. Where does it come from?

No joke: There’s a demand for instant ice cream and apps are cashing in.
Brandon Nitz, 20, a cashier at the Mobil gas station on 40th Avenue N., left, hands Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon, 34, a bag of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for an order placed by Tampa Bay Times emerging platforms producer Allison Graves Tuesday in St. Petersburg. Uber Eats began delivering ice cream a few months ago in Tampa Bay and other cities for Ben & Jerry's and its parent company, Unilever. Given that ice cream melts, it has required a particularly efficient delivery network. Graves gave it a try. (Herndon coincidentally delivers newspapers for the Times as an independent contractor.)
Brandon Nitz, 20, a cashier at the Mobil gas station on 40th Avenue N., left, hands Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon, 34, a bag of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for an order placed by Tampa Bay Times emerging platforms producer Allison Graves Tuesday in St. Petersburg. Uber Eats began delivering ice cream a few months ago in Tampa Bay and other cities for Ben & Jerry's and its parent company, Unilever. Given that ice cream melts, it has required a particularly efficient delivery network. Graves gave it a try. (Herndon coincidentally delivers newspapers for the Times as an independent contractor.) [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Oct. 30, 2019

TAMPA — The ice cream craving came calling after some wine on a cozy night in.

Bailey Mosley, 23, and her boyfriend had just finished a bottle — okay, maybe two — when they got that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. They were hungry and, as tipsy people often do, turned to Uber Eats. The best treat to sate their growling stomachs? Ben & Jerry’s.

It didn’t matter that it was approaching 10 p.m. or that pints come at a premium price with the addition of delivery fees and a tip. The heart wants what the heart wants. And that Sunday night, Mosley wanted Half Baked and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

“I got the call,” Mosley said, referring to the Uber Eats courier’s arrival, “and was over the moon."

Uber Eats began delivering ice cream a few months ago in Tampa Bay and other cities for Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever. Given that ice cream melts, it has required a particularly efficient delivery network. Their secret to speed is kind of ingenious.

They stash ice cream at gas stations and other convenience stores.

Brandon Nitz, 20, a cashier at the Mobil gas station on 40th Avenue N. pulls pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for an order placed through Uber Eats.
Brandon Nitz, 20, a cashier at the Mobil gas station on 40th Avenue N. pulls pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for an order placed through Uber Eats. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The clerks already work late-night — and often overnight — shifts, where multitasking is normal and freezer space plentiful. They pass off pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and Unilever’s other popular brands such as Magnum or Talenti, to the Uber Eats couriers, who are better known for delivering hot meals from restaurants.

Unilever calls the program “Ice Cream Now." It already has at least 900 pickup points across the country since its August launch — and the number is growing. It’s not difficult to find a gas station or convenience store willing to participate as a way to diversify income without a lot of added costs or work.

“This is a national initiative," said the head of Ice Cream Now, Rahul Shah. "As a consumer base’s behavior evolves across the country, we want to be where people are ordering ice cream and immediately deliver.”

Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon, 34, uses his cell phone after picking up an order of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for delivery.
Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon, 34, uses his cell phone after picking up an order of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for delivery. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The partnership is paying off for Uber Eats so far, according to Juan Pablo Restrepo, the head of the company’s top cities division. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has become the app’s top-selling item nationwide.

Shah wouldn’t disclose the profit breakdown between Uber Eats, Unilever and the stores, but said the company makes sure it’s worth it for the drivers and for the participating businesses. He said Unilever also has helped some stores add freezer space if necessary.

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The ice cream network operates similarly to the “ghost kitchens” Uber Eats has been creating with restaurants across the country. A Tampa sushi restaurant, for example, may exist under two additional names on the Uber Eats app. One specializes in ramen and the other in poke bowls. A user will see them as three separate eateries on the app, even though all the meals are being prepared by the same kitchen.

RELATED: Uber Eats is fueling a ‘ghost’ restaurant trend in the Tampa Bay area

Tampa Bay Times Emerging platforms producer Allison Graves' Ben & Jerry's ice cream order is seen after she placed it through Uber Eats on  Tuesday.
Tampa Bay Times Emerging platforms producer Allison Graves' Ben & Jerry's ice cream order is seen after she placed it through Uber Eats on Tuesday. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The app doesn’t list the source convenience store, such as the Mobil on First Avenue S, by name. Instead, all the sweat, creamy offerings are displayed under the “Ice Cream Shop." Every pickup point is called the “Ice Cream Shop." Customers are paired with the closest location. Addresses are listed, so users can figure out which business is filling their order.

Uber — which got its start taxiing passengers — isn’t alone in the instant ice cream delivery business. Another app in the area, goPuff, not only delivers pints of Ben & Jerry’s, it offers pretty much every snack or item you’d find in a gas station convenience store.

Its founders saw the need first-hand while college students in Philadelphia. Not everyone had a car, but they still wanted snacks not served in the dining halls or ran out of necessities such as toothpaste. The app launched in 2013 and now has 100 warehouses.

Unlike the Uber Eats and Unilever model, goPuff relies on its own product stock. It delivers mainly around the University of South Florida in Tampa, a set radius not too far from its local warehouse.

In Florida, goPuff’s most popular delivery times are Sunday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight followed closely by the same period on Saturday. Ice cream is also one of its top sellers.

“We have a variety of people who are using the app,” said Elizabeth Romaine, goPuff’s communications director. “Ice cream is not just something college students want. It’s something a mom wants after she puts the kids to bed.”

It’s a pretty common indulgence. And enough users who have already made up their minds that they need ice cream now don’t seem turned off by the price.

In stores around Tampa Bay, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s runs between $4 and $5, usually around $4.50. Uber Eats sells them at $6.99 each — and that’s without the delivery fee and tip, which can be a few more dollars. Two delivered pints will hit $20 pretty quick.

Uber and Unilever said they use data to see what people are searching for and where. They’re only going to expand the pickup points where data shows customers already searching for ice cream.

Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon delivers an ice cream order to Graves' St. Petersburg home on Tuesday.
Uber Eats driver Cory Herndon delivers an ice cream order to Graves' St. Petersburg home on Tuesday. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

Mosley’s ice cream came from the Metro Market on W Kennedy Boulevard, less than 10 minutes from her home in Seminole Heights.

She said the two pints arrived within 30 minutes of placing the order. By then, she was ravenous and excited.

“Honestly,” she said, “it wasn’t melted or anything.”

Top ordered Ben & Jerry’s flavors in Tampa Bay, according to Uber

1. Half Baked

2. The Tonight Dough

3. Strawberry Cheesecake