How Dippin’ Dots Went From Bankruptcy to a $222M Acquisition
Despite the slogan, “ice cream of the future,” the Dippin Dots franchise went bankrupt in 2011.
After a savvy acquisition by an oil tycoon for $12 million, they now do over $330,000,000 in revenue per year.
The crazy part? Most of the revenue isn’t from selling ice cream.
Let’s dive in…
- Dippin’ Dots got its start when microbiologist Curt Jones created a flash-freezing process that resulted in ice cream pellets that melted in your mouth.
- Jones distributed the novel ice cream in malls, theme parks, and more, making over $20 million in annual revenue by the year 2000.
- Due to a patent error and a drop in sales from the 2008 recession, Jones soon was $11 million in debt and forced into bankruptcy.
- Scott Fischer, the son of an Oklahoma oil tycoon, bought the struggling ice cream franchise for just $12 million.
- After bringing the ice cream company back to profitability, Fischer sold Dippin’ Dots to a massive food conglomerate known as J&J Snack Foods for $222 million in 2022.
Dippin Dots Origins
The Dippin’ Dots franchise story begins in the 1980s with Curt Jones, who worked as a microbiologist at a research center in Lexington, Kentucky.
While working at the research center, he was responsible for inventing a new food process for cattle that involved flash-freezing cow feed at negative 350 degrees. The end result was food pellets that better maintained the nutritional value of cows — a real breakthrough in agricultural food.
Jones, a hobbyist who also enjoyed making homemade ice cream, decided to test the very same process on ice cream — which, as you can guess, resulted in ultra-cold ice cream pellets that melted in your mouth.
His entrepreneurial spirit took hold of him, and he immediately ran with his new ice cream creation — the first Dippin’ Dots location would open shortly after in Lexington.
Dippin’ Dots Growth
After some early struggles with his brick-and-mortar business, Jones eventually would find success via distribution.
By distributing Dippin’ Dots to theme parks, malls, ballparks, and more — he had found an inexpensive and effective way to reach customers.
This strategy continued through the 1990s, and the Dippin’ Dots franchise had expanded to 350 outlets and nearly $20 million in annual revenue by the year 2000.
But the next decade would bring trouble for Jones and his newly successful ice cream franchise.
How Mini Melts Melted Dippin’ Dots’ Success
Back in 1991, Jones sued a competitor called “Mini Melts” for infringing on the patent he filed for his unique ice cream creation process.
A valid patent gives you exclusive rights for 20 years to make and sell your product without the risk of competitors being able to use your invention.
But Jones had made a crucial mistake — when you invent a product and start selling it, you have one year to file a patent.
Jones opened the first Dippin’ Dots location in July of 1987 but didn’t file a patent until March 1989. This mistake would ultimately cost him the lawsuit against Mini Melts.
Mini Melts Sued Dippin’ Dots, Leading Them to Bankruptcy
To make matters worse, Mini Melts counter-sued Jones and Dippin’ Dots, resulting in Jones having to pay Mini Melts $10 million in 2007.
Then in 2008, the Great Recession hit, and all of a sudden, far fewer people were going to venues where you could find Dippin’ Dots.
Sales would drop from $46 million in 2007 to $30 million by 2010. The recession, combined with the lawsuit, led to the Dippin’ Dots franchise being $11 million in debt and bankruptcy.
Scott Fischer Bought Dippin’ Dots for $12M
The franchise went up for auction in what’s called a “363 sale” — a form of bankruptcy that allows buyers to pick and choose which assets of the business they’d like to acquire.
Scott Fischer, the son of an Oklahoma oil tycoon, would buy the struggling ice cream franchise for just $12 million.
“I was able to pick the diamonds from the rough, free and clear of any liabilities.”
The Next Era of Dippin’ Dots
Fischer, whose father founded Chapparal Energy, turned Dippin’ Dots from a brand that couldn’t keep the lights on to a business doing well into nine figures.
He’s done this through three key areas:
- Product expansion
- Acquisition → Franchising
- Licensing the Dippin’ Dots IP
Fischer built a new production facility and introduced a frozen yogurt product called “YoDots.” He also expanded into supermarkets with a special freezer that’s cold enough to hold their products.
Both have been a hit, as Fischer was quoted saying, “We’re fighting to keep supply up with demand and growth.”
Dippin’ Dots had lost its presence in shopping malls over the years, so Fischer acquired a popcorn franchise called “DocPopcorn” in 2014 to bring in more foot traffic to their locations.
The acquisition was a win-win for both franchise owners and customers. The co-branded stores offer a tasty sweet-and-salty combination for customers while bringing in dual revenue for franchisees.
Dippin’ Dots franchise unit count would take off shortly after, going from 125 locations in 2014 to about 220 today.
In 2018, Fischer formed a subsidiary to license the flash-freezing and “dot-forming” technology that Dippin’ Dots has been using since Curt Jones invented it in the 1980s.
Pharmaceutical companies started using it to increase the shelf life of their products. But the biggest customers of this revenue stream changed the game for Dippin’ Dots — Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
The plant-based meat giants feed their ingredients through the Dippin’ Dots cryogenic (flash-freezing via liquid nitrogen) process, and out comes pelletized products that simulate the consistency of natural fat in their burgers, bacon, and sausage.
The impact this has had on the business is undisputed — Fischer has been quoted saying, “with that one, we’ve been doing really well. It’s increased our net substantially and actually is surpassing the Dippin’ Dots business right now.”
Dippin’ Dots Franchise — Where Are They Now?
In May 2022, a massive food conglomerate known as J&J Snack Foods purchased Dippin’ Dots for $222 million.
Given that Fischer acquired them for just $12 million in 2011, he generated an 18x return on the business in roughly a decade.
It’s truly a remarkable turnaround story. If you see the Dippin’ Dots franchise around, you can thank Scott Fischer for saving the novelty ice cream treat.