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Stacy Peterson is overseeing innovation at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, the Columbus, Ohio-based treat chain where she took over the CEO role in late 2022.

How Stacy Peterson is bringing a big-brand mentality to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Formerly the chief technology officer at Wingstop, Peterson is now tasked with scaling the treat restaurant concept

One of the biggest winners — if you could call it that — of COVID’s early days was Wingstop. The Dallas-based chicken-wing chain thrived in the off-premises-only world, capitalizing on years of technology innovation that had propped up the brand as a delivery and takeout leader powered by digital ordering. 

Stacy Peterson was one of the architects of that innovation. The former chief technology officer at Wingstop, Peterson spent nine years at that company, watching it grow from about 550 locations to 2,000 in that time frame.

Now Peterson is overseeing innovation at another company: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, the Columbus, Ohio-based treat chain where she took over the CEO role in late 2022. In Jeni’s, she sees an opportunity to apply a sort of big-brand blueprint akin to what was executed at Wingstop — but with more of a focus on culinary innovation at Jeni’s.

“I love the story of being a creative-led company,” Peterson said of the opportunity to take the chief executive role. “I love the innovation at the center of what Jeni’s is doing, and the product is fantastic.”

Stacy_Peterson_Headshot.jpgJeni’s was founded in 2002 by James Beard Award-winning ice cream maker Jeni Britton. It’s firmly planted its flag in culinary innovation, with flavors like Brambleberry Crisp, Butterscotch Popcorn, and even Everything Bagel (alongside standards like Salty Caramel, Green Mint Chip, and Cookies in Cream). 

While Jeni’s boasts 85 scoop shops around the country, it’s also thriving in two other channels: a direct-to-consumer business and consumer packaged goods. Peterson said the company is pursuing growth in each channel, with each working in concert with the others to embed the brand in a local community. 

“We see the three channels as accretive and helping to build our brand and our brand awareness in a market,” she said. “Specifically where we have scoop shops in a market and we have retail distribution at a grocery store, we see the business really kind of start to take off. There's a momentum and an awareness that is accretive to all the channels.”

Whereas Wingstop had become a technology powerhouse by the time Peterson departed, 

the technology journey at Jeni’s has only just begun, she said. It started with COVID, when the company stood up its delivery channel, and will continue only as much as it can benefit the customer experience, she said.  

“It's not technology for technology's sake,” Peterson said. “You really have to look at the customer experience and how technology fits into that customer experience.”

Peterson compares Jeni’s to a fashion house that has multiple collections and releases each year. The flavor innovation is centered around experiences in the world, she added, translating memories and nostalgia into ice cream flavors. She points to the brand’s Boozy Eggnog flavor, which reminds her of her dad’s signature drink over the holidays.

“We love that Jeni’s is really creating those experiences, telling those stories, transforming people, bringing people together in a way that I don't think many brands have the luxury to be able to do,” she said. “Jeni’s has been known and we will continue to be known as [having] this culinary credibility, doing unusual flavors, really pushing the boundaries of what's possible in ice cream.”

Contact Sam Oches at [email protected]

Learn more from Stacy Peterson at CREATE: The Experience, where she will speak with NRN editor-in-chief Sam Oches about the dos and don’ts of using a big company playbook with an emerging brand, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs. 

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