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    Baskin-Robbins ice cream heads for the grocery store

    The middle of a snow-packed February may seem like an odd time to add a brand to the supermarket ice cream aisle, but Baskin-Robbins is headed to a store near you.

    The Canton chain, best known for offering 31 flavors of ice cream at its retail shops, is introducing its first full line of cold treats for grocery stores.

    Three-packs of jamoca almond fudge and mint chocolate chip ice cream bars and 14-ounce cups of ice cream in flavors such as gold medal ribbon and pralines ‘n cream are rolling out in supermarkets in California and should hit local Shaw's stores in the next few weeks.

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    “Ice cream is a category used by all age groups and all demographic groups,” said John Fassak, vice president of business development of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., the parent company of Baskin-Robbins. “Our goal is to have these products available across the country and build more of an affinity for the brand.”

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    Fassak said the new line will help the brand reach more consumers in states such as Massachusetts, where it only has six retail stores.

    Baskin-Robbins has a stronger presence on the West Coast, particularly in California, where it was founded in 1953 and now operates 455 stores. There are 2,467 Baskin-Robbins stores in the United States and more than 4,600 in other countries.

    But an industry specialist warned that consumer reception at the supermarket could be chilly.

    “Competition is brutal in the freezer case,” said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research firm in Chicago. “It’s a very challenging category.”

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    Goldin said the ice cream section of grocery stores is crowded and sales volumes are down. There are more alternative products, such as gelato, entering the market, and many supermarkets have to offer steep discounts just to move ice cream off the shelves, he said.

    Baskin-Robbins ice cream has a suggested retail price between $3.99 or $4.49, which will probably pit the brand against well-known premium products such as Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs. Goldin said the price makes it an even tougher sell.

    “People just don’t want to spend that much money anymore for a pint of ice cream,” he said. “It’s expensive. If you have a family of four or teenage boys, that doesn’t last long.”

    Fassak agreed that the ice cream category is extremely competitive but said Baskin-Robbins is a unique product.

    Boardwalk Frozen Treats was established as a separate entity to market, distribute, and sell Baskin-Robbins products for grocery stores through an exclusive license agreement. The company is led by Tom Delaplane, a former Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream executive.

    Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @tarynluna.