Brigham's Inc. History

30 Mill Street
Arlington, Massachusetts 02476

Telephone: (781) 648-9000
Toll Free: 800-274-4426
Fax: (781) 646-0507

Private Company
Founded: 1914
Employees: 350
Sales: $50 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 311520 Ice Cream and Frozen Dessert Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Brigham's has offered Boston and New England consumers a tradition of quality dessert products and a legacy of corporate responsibility.

Key Dates:

The Durand Company opens a Boston candy and ice cream shop.
Edward L. Brigham opens "The Little Shop," selling candy and ice cream.
Durand and Brigham merge.
Brigham's shops begin selling baked goods.
Jewell companies acquire the Brigham's.
Brigham's ice cream is first sold to supermarkets.
The company acquires the premium Elan brand.
Brigham's ownership changes in a management-led buyout.
New England Capital acquires Brigham's.

Company History:

Brigham's, Inc., is a privately owned, Arlington, Massachusetts-based company that produces ice cream and frozen yogurt under the Brigham's and premium Elan brands, as well as for regional private labels. A tradition in New England, Brigham's vanilla ice cream is the number one selling frozen food in the region. The company also maintains 27 full-service restaurants in Massachusetts, offering sandwiches as well as ice cream.

Early 1900s Origins

Brigham's traces its history to 1914 when the Durrand Company, founded by the Symmes brothers, opened a shop in Boston's Post Office Square to sell candy and ice cream. The man who would lend his name to the company, Edward L. Brigham, opened his own ice cream shop, called "The Little Shop," in the Newton Highlands section in 1924. He made his own candies and ice cream in the backroom, relying on private recipes, including the one for vanilla ice cream that would be passed down to the present age. All that would be revealed about the formula was that it began with vanilla extract imported from Madagascar. In addition to producing delicious ice cream, The Little Shop also became known for serving generous portions of its five and ten cent cones and 20 cent sundaes. On summer weekends, according to company lore, the crowds were so thick around The Little Shop that police were called in to maintain order. Brigham was so successful that after five years, in 1929, he merged his business with the Durand Company to achieve even greater regional growth and form the basis of what evolved into today's Brigham's Inc.

Soon Brigham's opened an ice cream manufacturing plant, which supplied an additional three stores the company opened. By now, candy consumption in America had declined, and the shops focused on ice cream. Despite the Great Depression of the 1930s, the company continued to prosper, opening another 20 stores during the decade. Primarily as a way to add business during the winter months, Brigham's acquired Dorothy Muriel's bakery in 1940, and the shops began selling baked goods as well as ice cream. It was not until the early 1960s that Brigham's began to move into the dining sector. During the interim, it was acquired by Star Markets, which then opened 40 new colonial-style shops that began offering sandwiches. Next, Brigham's was acquired by the Jewell Companies in 1968, and the business was supplemented by the addition of Buttrick's chain of colonial-style restaurants located in Arlington, Massachusetts, which would become the home of Brigham's headquarters.

Franchising in the 1970s

To supply its chain of retail operations, Brigham's expanded its manufacturing operation during the early 1970s. The company turned to franchising in 1977, a move that greatly expanded the Brigham's presence in New England. The company changed owners again in 1982 when Jewell sold it to New York financier Bennett S. Lebow, who tucked it into Lebow Industries, a privately held company. Under his ownership, Brigham's began pursuing supermarket sales. In 1983, the first quarts of Brigham's ice cream were sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. On the restaurant side, expansion continued, the chain peaking at 105 units in the mid-1980s. Around this time, however, the company began to exhibit some serious problems. According to Tina Cassidy, writing for the Boston Business Journal in 1992, "Under Lebow's stewardship, consumer products were priced irrationally, there were too many restaurants in bad locations, the shops needed a face lift, and little attention had been paid to the increased competitiveness among other ice cream and frozen yogurt makers." An attempt to build a dinner clientele at Brigham's restaurants also proved to be ill conceived.

Charged with revitalizing Brigham's was Richard Silva, a 17-year veteran of the company, named president in August 1987. He shared his assessment of the company with New England Business a few months later: "One of the problems at Brigham's over the years is that we never knew what we wanted to be when we grew up. ... We have really not had consistent leadership at the top. We've had talented people at the top, but we haven't had any consistency of direction in the last 30 years." In response to market research that indicated consumers associated Brigham's with ice cream and a quick place for a sandwich, Silva created a five-year plan that would expand supermarket ice cream sales throughout the Northeast in an effort to establish Brigham's as a premium brand in the family category, differentiating itself from the economy brands sold in half-gallon and gallon cartons and the specialty brands sold in pints. The restaurant chain at this stage had declined to 72 units, many of which were franchised to operators who had no equity stake in the business. Instead, they maintained a small security deposit while Brigham's held the restaurant's lease and owned all the equipment. As these franchise agreements began to expire, Silva wanted to convert franchisees to an equity position.

Silva never had the chance to complete his five-year plan, as once again Brigham's underwent yet another change in direction at a time when the company was losing a reported $4.5 million a year. In 1988, Lebow brought in a consultant, Milton Namiot, to determine why Brigham's was losing money. A year later, in April 1989, Naimot replaced Silva as president. He took over a company that was generating about $36 million in annual sales, 70 percent of which came from the restaurant business. Naimot believed that Brigham's had to sell pre-packed pints in order to remain competitive, and in the fall of 1989 the company introduced pints in eight flavors, priced as much as a dollar less than Ben & Jerry's. To accommodate this price point, Brigham's not only took less of a profit, it cut back on the butterfat content and added some air to the product. Naimot also took on the frozen yogurt market, as Brigham's introduced six flavors of frozen yogurt quarts in the fall of 1989. In addition, the company tried its hand at novelty products, bringing out a microwave milkshake called Zapp-A-Frappe and premium sundae cups. Brigham's also became aggressive in its geographic expansion, moving into the New York City market in 1990. It placed an advertisement in the Miami Herald to gauge interest in bringing Brigham's ice cream to Florida. The response was encouraging, and in 1992 the company began distributing its products in the Sunshine State. Other markets Naimot considered were Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and the United Kingdom. Naimot clearly focused on pre-pack sales, and on the restaurant side of the business he closed down struggling operations and opened a handful of new ones located in more promising locations, including scaled-down versions in shopping mall food courts. By mid-1992 the chain was reduced to 55 units. What remained were remodeled with a retro 1930s and 1940s interior look and menus revamped to include such fare as pita pocket sandwiches and entrees that included sirloin steak and fried haddock. In 1992, Naimot reorganized the company into separate restaurant and pre-packed ice cream divisions, appointing senior managers to oversee each operation.

Elan Foods Acquired in the Early 1990s

After stabilizing Brigham's, in July 1991 Namiot bought a controlling interest in the company with funding from Grotech Partners, a Baltimore venture capital firm, and an Italian holding company, Raggio diSole Finanziaria. With his new financial backing, Naimot completed a major acquisition in 1993, buying Elan Foods Inc., makers of Elan Frozen Yogurt, a nine-year-old premium brand that had lost its elite standing, unable to keep pace with more aggressive competitors like Häagen-Dazs, Colombo, and Ben & Jerry's. Elan did not label its products as low-fat and failed to introduce the kind of chunky, mixed-in flavors concocted by its rivals. By acquiring Elan, Brigham's hoped to broaden its demographics, in particular to increase its base among women and 25 to 50-year-olds without cannibalizing sales from the Brigham's brand. Brigham's following, according to market research, was with consumers 50 years and older. Soon after Brigham's took over, Elan dropped some of its low-selling flavors and replaced them with such items as Andres!, Mint Drift, and Carrot Cake Rapture. Most of its traditional flavors were also reformulated and labeled low fat. Packaging also received a design make-over to give the yogurt cartons what the company called an upscale European look, and a new marketing effort was launched. As a result, Elan began winning back distribution as a number of supermarkets elected to once again carry the full Elan line.

Despite the changes Naimot made, Brigham's did little more than hold its own. In 1995, the business was reorganized, and the company experienced yet another change at the top as Roger Theriault was named chief executive officer. He had been with the company since 1989. The structure of having separate divisions was scrapped, and ice cream and restaurants were reunited as part of a brand building strategy. While pre-packed supermarket ice cream was by now the dominant sales generator, accounting for about 65 percent of total revenues, the restaurants remained important as a branding tool and because many consumer's first taste of Brigham's ice cream was in a Brigham's restaurant. Another new look, "cheerier and brighter," according to Theriault, was introduced in the Burlington Mall in 1998. The smaller mall units also proved to be more profitable because of lower staffing needs, easier maintenance, and less overhead in general. Soon afterward, the company introduced a kiosk format, less than 300 square feet, much smaller than the mall units and limited to selling ice cream and beverages. All the while, Brigham's closed down older, less profitable restaurants. All units in Florida and New York were shut down, and the company focused its efforts in these markets entirely on supermarket sales. Under Theriault, Elan enjoyed steady growth. From 1998 through 2001, the brand experienced a 46 percent increase in sales during a period in which the category as a whole had suffered a sizeable decline.

Strategic Changes Continue into the 2000s

As Brigham's entered the 2000s, sales had grown to the $50 million range, and the company had been profitable since Theriault had taken over. To stay current, the company brought out new product launches such as the Big Dig, which commemorated Boston's long-term Central Artery highway project. Brigham's significantly expanded its geographic reach in 2002 by signing an agreement with Pathmark supermarkets to distribute its products in Pathmarks stores in New York, New Jersey, and parts of Delaware and Pennsylvania. In 2003, Brigham's broadened its product line with the introduction of a line of premium, stickless three-ounce ice cream bars, available in milk chocolate and dark chocolate varieties.

Brigham's celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2004, and although the company had experienced many challenges throughout its history, it was a survivor in a tough category. As was often the case in the company's past, Brigham's now experienced another change in ownership. In 2004, the Newton, Massachusetts-based private equity investment firm of New England Capital Partners acquired Brigham's for an undisclosed price from the previous ownership group, which by this time had been dominated by foreign investors. It was Theriault who played a key role in bringing Brigham's and New England Capital together. He then stepped down and in April 2004 a new chief executive, Charles Green, was installed. He would also become an equity owner in the business. Green was well experienced in the ice cream trade, having served as vice-president of strategy and distribution at Unilever Ice Cream and senior director of North American sales and distribution at Ben & Jerry's, which was owned by Unilever. The new team considered the Brigham brand a "jewel" not fully exploited by previous owners. "At first glance," in the opinion of Chris Reidy, writing for the Boston Globe, "the highly competitive ice cream business would seem to be experiencing challenging times. The cost of many ice cream ingredients are up sharply, and for many health-conscious consumers following low-carbohydrate diets, ice cream is something they've scratched off their grocery store shopping list." Nevertheless, Brigham's new management team believed there were channels of distribution the company had not fully exploited, like food service opportunities at universities and sporting events. The restaurants would still find a place within the new organization, but ice cream would take precedence over other foods. In 2004, the company continued to introduce new products, including a Reverse the Curse ice cream dedicated to the Boston Red Sox baseball team, which had been denied a World Series championship for decades. In the fall of that year, the team won the World Series, and Brigham's claimed a share of the credit, changing the name of the flavor to Curse Reversed.

In 2005, Elan marked its 20th anniversary with a revamped package design, a new size, and several new flavors. Brigham's attempted its first co-branding venture in the same year, teaming up with iParty, a party goods retailer, to market an ice cream flavor called iParty No Bake Cake that tried to emulate the taste of golden cake mix and swirls of chocolate frosting. The alliance between Brigham's and iParty was designed to give the latter company more brand exposure, while Brigham's hoped the iParty name would help its product stand out on already crowded store shelves. It was just one of five new ice cream flavors the company hoped to introduce in 2005.

Principal Competitors: Denny's Corporation; Friendly Ice Cream Corporation; HP Hood LLC.

Further Reading:

  • Carlino, Bill, "Brigham's Chain Sets Sights on Shopping Malls for Growth," Nation's Restaurant News, October 7, 1991, p. 70.
  • Cassidy, Tina, "Brigham's Scoops Out a New Image," Boston Business Journal, June 1, 1992, p. 1.
  • "Elan Shines Again," Dairy Foods, June 1994, p. 765.
  • Goodison, Donna L., "Brigham's Scoops Profits with Willingness to Evolve," Biston Business Journal, June 8, 2001, p. 10.
  • "Growing Up Tastefully: Brigham's Ice Cream Celebrates 90th Anniversary," Dairy Foods, March 2004, p. 56.
  • McLaughlin, Mark, "Adhering to Reality Principle Stands Brigham's in Good Stead," New England Business, October 19, 1987, p. 54.
  • Reidy, Chris, "New Owners of Ice Cream Maker Brigham's Aim to Strengthen Brand," Boston Globe, April 21, 2004.
  • Reiter, Jeff, "Growing a New England Tradition," Dairy Foods, August 1989, p. 56.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.