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Here's How You Invest in Your Ice Cream and Eat it Too

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- July is National Ice Cream Month and investors may be considering opportunities in the frozen dairy brands. Americans consume on average 48 pints of ice cream each per year and have transformed ice cream sales from a strictly summertime business into a year-round profit-making enterprise.

There is no lack of independently owned ice cream shops across the country offering fresh and increasingly idiosyncratic flavors. But if you want to invest in ice cream, your flavors are few.

There's Dunkin' Brands (DNKN - Get Report), parent company of Baskin-Robbins, and Unilever (UL), which acquired Ben & Jerry's back in 2001.

Some see the ice cream industry as a seasonal business. Bill Mitchell, president of Baskin-Robbins U.S. and Canada, disagrees, noting his company has worked hard to achieve year-round profits.

Baskin-Robbins operates more than 7,300 stores worldwide. The business has expanded from the U.S. into hotter markets of the Middle East and Central and South America. Mitchell expect five to 10 new Baskin-Robbins restaurants in the U.S. this year, and Dunkin' Brands plans to open 300 to 400 Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins "combo" stores internationally.

Through these combo stores with Dunkin' Donuts, Baskin-Robbins has gained a younger audience and brand awareness. The move has also allowed the ice cream seller to more easily penetrate particular markets.

"It takes a long time to get such large scale and volume for an ice cream store," Mitchell says. "It took us over 40 years to do it. It takes brand awareness and it takes advertising dollars."

This is why so many shops are independently owned. He said ice cream is less of a seasonal business today and there are other ways to increase revenue during the winter months.

"We just have to change the way we do things when it isn't the peak of selling season or, as some people call it, the 'Sweet 16' weeks of summer," Mitchell says.

Baskin-Robbins partnered with Lafayette, California-based Boardwalk Frozen Treats this year, and Mitchell says he's working with retailers to distribute packaged products both domestically and in some international markets.

"We have to balance our portfolio," he remarks, adding the company is stepping up its sales of Greek yogurt flavors to appeal to the health-conscious consumer and is also augmenting its online sales operation.

Independent brands may not yet represent opportunities for investment, but hard working investors need a treat now and then. Consider it research. One of the companies on the following pages might someday be the next Baskin-Robbins.

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