DALLAS — A convenience store retailer may be content if a new product or promotion is successful for a season; perhaps even a year or two. So, it's a remarkable feat that the invention of a Kansas hamburger stand owner — who in 1959 used an automobile air conditioner to create a sophisticated piece of equipment that would freeze a carbonated soft drink and serve it sherbet-like, edible via a straw — would stand the test of time.
This product, first called Icee when it began to be sold in 7-Eleven stores in 1965, has not only survived, but thrived. In fact, it has become one of the most recognizable products in the entire convenience store universe.
In May 1967, this famous product would be renamed the Slurpee — making this year the iconic beverage's 50th year. The Slurpee name was the brainchild of the Stanford Agency, 7-Eleven’s in-house agency at the time. The name came from Stanford Agency Director Bob Stanford who commented that the frozen treat made a “slurp” sound as it came up through the straw.
“There’s nothing that people link more closely to 7-Eleven than Slurpee,” said Laura Gordon, vice president of marketing and brand innovation at Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc. “It’s one of the great products that really links our franchisees to their individual neighborhoods and communities, schools, little league baseball, support for local police departments. Slurpee and our franchisees have supported them all. It’s a staple for 7-Eleven because it’s such a big part of the neighborhoods we are in.”
Taste, of course, has played a key part in the success of Slurpee. Excellent marketing programs have likewise been a major factor in the Slurpee's enduring popularity.
Such efforts include collectors’ cups, which started in 1972. In subsequent years, these special cups have featured everything from monsters to rock and roll stars to endangered species. The cups have also been adorned with free prizes, peel-off game pieces, and false bottoms housing items such as baseball player coins.
“Part of Slurpee’s popularity has been driven by collaboration with emerging trends,” explained Gordon. “Baseball coin cups used to be an amazing summer favorite. Superhero movies, wrestling, tattoos, hockey, mustache straws, shark straws — everyone in America has a Slurpee plastic cup somewhere in their house with something that was popular at some point in their life.”
These days, Gordon told CSNews Online that a more recent promotion, Bring Your Own Cup Day, personifies how the Slurpee retains its popularity from day to day and year to year.
“We really want customers to make Slurpee their own. Bring Your Own Cup Day is a great example of that," she said. "In our first year, we saw over 1.5 million people bring in the container of their choice and fill it up with Slurpee; about 190 customers per store. From milk jugs to inflatable swimming pools, it was so amazing that this year we made it a two-day event.”
7-Eleven Day, which takes place annually on July 11, is another prime example of just how strong the frozen beverage’s popularity remains after 50 long years.
“That people all over the U.S. and Canada look forward to July 11th is just amazing. Everyone I meet has a story about that day," said Gordon. "We’ll give out about 9 million free Slurpee drinks again this year — it’s practically a national holiday. People on vacation will make sure they find a 7-Eleven on that day, and teenagers will try and see how many stores they can visit in one day. There’s no way we could stop it now.”
A GOLDEN CELEBRATION
Since early in 2016, 7-Eleven has been inviting customers to take part in its "Slurpee Fiftee" celebration, which kicked off with a National Football League partnership that coincided with Super Bowl 50.
More celebration festivities have followed, with additional ones still to come this calendar year.
“We’ve got great new flavors inspired by popular candies, such as AirHeads, Sour Patch Kids and Skittles. [We also have] Slurpee-flavored doughnuts and a partnership with Shark Week. We’ve got shark straws, cups with a bite taken out of them and strawberry-filled jelly doughnuts with a gummy shark on top,” Gordon shared. “Our second-annual Bring Your Own Cup Day, 7-Eleven Day, and more [are still to come].”
And Gordon assures Slurpee fans that its innovation engine will continue churning for the next 50 years and beyond.
“We’ll work hard to listen to Slurpee fans. They’ve been a big part of our flavor development work over the past few years. Vernor’s Ginger Ale in Detroit, last summer’s Sour Patch Kids; all of these flavors and more have come from listening to Slurpee fans," she concluded. "We’ll just keep giving them what they want.”