Frosty Fun

Frozen dispensed beverages delight consumers of all ages.

Frosty Fun

July 2022   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

On the first warm day of spring this year, I asked my high school senior if she wanted anything from our local 7-Eleven. Her eyes brightened immediately as she responded, “A Slurpee!” At the c-store, she mixed three flavors together for her own custom-blended slushie. Her delight reminded me how tightly connected frozen dispensed beverages are with warm temperatures—and how much kids, teens and adults still gravitate toward the cool, refreshing drinks.

“Depending on where your store is located, sales of frozen dispensed beverages typically spike in the summer and dip in the winter,” said Jayme Gough, research manager, NACS.


In 2020, frozen dispensed beverage sales were ahead of 2019 for the first quarter, but then the pandemic forced many retailers to shut down all or part of their foodservice programs, including self-dispensed beverages. However, 2021 sales recovered, closely mirroring monthly sales of 2019 and 2018, rather than 2020, according to CSX data.

While the smallest of the foodservice subcategories, frozen dispensed beverages typically bring in high margins. In 2021, gross margins for frozen dispensed improved by 2.08 percentage points to 65.37%, which boosted the category’s gross profits by 30.6% to $1,623 per store, per month. Overall, the category represented 1.15% of in-store sales last year, and 5.4% of foodservice sales, according to NACS State of the Industry data. “Getting foodservice programs back online in 2021 drove increased sales for the category,” Gough said.

At the 14 Y-Not Stop stores in Louisiana, frozen dispensed beverage sales are down year over year for some stores, “but frozen is performing better than other dispensed beverage categories on a unit sales year-over-year percent-change basis,” said Annie St. Romain Gauthier, CFO/co-CEO for St. Romain Oil Company, which operates the chain. “However, we opened our two newest stores in June 2021 and March 2022 with enhanced frozen programs that are outselling existing stores by a strong lead. So, we’re circling back to existing stores with those enhancements to boost the category across all locations.”


Fun flavors are a major sales driver in the frozen dispensed beverages subcategory. “Rotating flavors to maintain variety can keep the frozen beverage experience fresh for repeat customers and interesting to newer shoppers,” Gough said.

When it comes to flavors, The Coca-Cola Company sees frozen beverage growth linked to two emerging trends—snacking and indulgence. “Current flavor trends in frozen dispensed beverages are looking to offer consumers a treat for the snacking occasion,” said Rebecca Johnson, senior manager of category marketing, frozen beverages, The Coca-Cola company. “Mixing frozen flavors, such as tea and lemonade, is seeing a resurgence.” The company is pairing Minute Maid Lemonade and Gold Peak Tea in frozen uncarbonated to create a frozen tea and lemonade flavor.

At The ICEE company, “current flavor trends range from summer fruity flavors, such as mango or strawberry, to health-forward flavors with functional ingredients, such as added vitamins and immunity boosters like vitamin C, to indulgent comforting treats, such as added candy mix-ins,” said Natalie Peterson, vice president, marketing, The ICEE Company. Swirled frozen beverages incorporating several flavors at once are also trending.

Y-Not Stop’s frozen dispensed beverages feature “flavors with a broader appeal than kids looking for primary-color sugar,” like red cherry or blue raspberry flavors, Gauthier said. “That’s been helpful to the category’s growth. We continuously revise our offer, freshening it up as needed, to keep customer interest high.”

For Kyle Freebairn, CEO of Freezing Point LLC, maker of Frazil, flavor rotation is paramount to a successful frozen dispensed beverage program. “According to our data, we see a significant performance difference for stores that rotate flavors versus stores that don’t,” he said. “As the number of flavors a store rotates goes up, the average performance of those stores does incrementally better than stores that rotate flavors less often or not at all.”

Mixing frozen flavors, such as tea and lemonade, is seeing a resurgence. 


The frozen dispensed beverage category has experienced recent innovation in technology and equipment, providing retailers with an even greater-tasting product for consumers. For example, The ICEE Company’s newest equipment allows operators to offer up to 32 different flavor combinations with a two-valve machine. “The new machine lets consumers design their frozen beverage by selecting their own personal combination of flavor add-ins to their frozen base,” Peterson said. “Consumers have always created their own flavor combinations, and this machine allows them to do that with more options, intensity and excitement.”

Nitrogen-infused frozen drinks have become more popular as well, with both Coca-Cola and ICEE offering machines carbonating with nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide. “As consumers’ tastes continue to evolve, we’re exploring new ways to deliver premium frozen carbonated beverages with nitrogen,” said Melinda Pritchett, director of category strategy and innovation, The Coca-Cola Company. “By adding nitrogen versus CO2, which is most typical, the texture becomes smooth and velvety, completely changing the frozen beverage experience.”

In addition, Coca-Cola sees traditional frozen beverage dispensers continuing to change by incorporating digital messaging, the ability to add flavor shots for greater customization and smaller in-store footprints for the machines. “Equipment is changing to meet product innovation and the needs of c-store operators,” Pritchett said.

No matter a retailer’s frozen dispensed beverage machine, Freebairn emphasized the importance of having equipment that’s on, working and full. “To help stores monitor their frozen dispensed beverage equipment, we’ve developed a connected machine module that alerts our office and the store if the machine isn’t on, working or full in order to help retailers keep customers supplied with the frozen dispensed beverages they love,” he said. 


Convenience stores no longer corner the market on frozen dispensed beverages, with more quick-service restaurants (QSRs) offering their own versions. “Many foodservice customers are entering the frozen category using frozen uncarbonated beverage granita equipment,” Pritchett said. “This equipment has a lower cost of entry but still serves a quality beverage.”

However, Coca-Cola believes convenience retailers have a distinct advantage over QSRs “in the frozen dispensed beverage category based on the ability to offer consumers many product options at once,” Johnson said. “We know consumers love variety in slushies. ... C-stores often have multiple barrels running various flavors and brands, so shoppers have the option of something different and unique each time they visit.”

Frazil’s Freebairn agreed. “Being deliberate in flavor rotation keeps things fresh and interesting,” he said. “Also, highlight what a c-store offers that a QSR doesn’t—the ability to custom blend flavors. People enjoy self-dispensing, and that mixing element is part of what makes frozen dispensed beverages a fun and exciting category and a uniquely c-store experience.”

Convenience store operators also can offer more variety in the slush category with limited time offers and a larger selection in a “wall of frozen,” Peterson said. “C-stores can offer a large and rotating variety to keep things exciting and new for consumers who come back to try their favorite seasonal flavor or the latest LTO. By creating an exciting frozen destination, a retailer can expect to see continued growth in frequency and loyalty.”


The summer months provide a wonderful opportunity for convenience retailers to promote and highlight frozen dispensed beverages. “While we compete directly with QSRs in this space—which have also upped their offerings for frozen dispensed beverages—convenience retailers can still have an edge by bringing in fresh, new flavors and running summertime promotions,” Gough said.

For example, Gough suggested retailers tie frozen beverage promotions to national summer holidays like Independence Day and regional events, such as festivals or sporting events, to create buzz for the category. “Some retailers even offer summer discounts or expanded loyalty rewards or bundle frozen beverages with another item for additional incentives,” she said.

Focusing on the unique experience of frozen dispensed beverages at c-stores can also increase sales. “There is no easy way to replicate frozen beverages at home. Convenience stores function as a daily stop, an impulse visit and a road trip destination where consumers can experience the unique, permissible indulgence of frozen beverages,” Peterson said.

Pritchett of Coca-Cola recommended displaying color segmentation to create a rainbow of products to maximize frozen beverage offerings. “Also, products that create nostalgia, like frozen Fanta Blueberry Vanilla, which came back this summer from the early 2000s, are a popular option,” she said. “Consumers want unique and novel flavors they can’t get elsewhere.”

Overall, the future of frozen dispensed beverages in convenience stores is bright. “C-stores have an opportunity to deliver bold innovation, which can create an exciting beverage destination,” Pritchett said.

Y-Not Stop’s Gauthier added, “I think the future is bright for this small but key—and high profit—c-store category.” 

The Power of CSX Data

CSX, the engine behind category metrics and NACS State of the Industry data, provides current and customizable tools for financial and operational reporting and analysis in the convenience industry. Retailers can measure their company by any of the myriad metrics generated via our live database. Contact Chris Rapanick at (703) 518–4253 or [email protected] for a complimentary executive walkthough.

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at

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