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Ice cream shop offers latest scoop on web innovation in Minnesota

A small retailer in St. Paul that's obsessed with serving its customers has introduced an innovative new convenience for them that would shame even the largest retail giant -- and it's been no less than a year in the making. Izzy's Ice Cream in St. Paul has announced a service that delivers real-time updates to its loyal customers about ice cream flavors currently being served in-store via its website, Facebook and Twitter pages and email updates.

It's called "Izzy's Flavor Up!" and essentially allows customers to subscribe to their favorite ice cream flavors, which are updated every three minutes on its "flavor grid" web page.

With website design and technology assistance from Bloomington-based The Nerdery (aka Sierra Bravo), Rogers-based RFID firm AbeTech, and California-based tech vendor Phoenix Technologies, Izzy's Ice Cream is now tagging all of its 90-plus flavors in-store with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

Each flavor's tub is tagged with a unique code that's automatically scanned when placed in the dipping cabinet.

What it means for an ice cream lover is nothing less than nirvana. Customers can now know, with absolute certainty anytime around the clock, which flavors are available in-store. When new flavors are removed from or added to the dipping cabinet, Izzy's web site, Facebook and Twitter pages will automatically be updated, alerting fans to the latest changes. Customers can sign up for email alerts for their favorite flavors – so they'll always know when their favorite Hot Brown Sugar, Soy Peanut Butter, or Peace Coffee ice cream is available.

We also learned that SMS or text updates are on the way, if you'd rather get your alerts that way. In-store customers can see the technology in action via a large-screen monitor that shows which flavors are now being scooped.

"Our customers are extremely passionate about their favorite flavors of Izzy's ice cream," said Jeff Sommers, Izzy's owner, in a statement. "Their enthusiasm, while motivating me to continue creating delicious flavors, can also prove to be a customer service issue. Before today, our customers had no way of knowing if their favorite flavors were going to be available when they walked through the door. This system solves that problem and makes it easier for our customers to enjoy their favorite flavors." The title of a video that Izzy's crack PR firm put up on YouTube says it all: "How to Subscribe to Ice Cream."

The nameplates for each flavor in the store have RFID chips built in, which are then read by antennae anchored in the dipping cabinet. The inventory is automatically updated simply through the act of an employee changing flavors in the dipping cabinet. That act triggers an inventory update, which in turn publishes the current flavors to multiple channels: the in-store screen, Izzy's website, its Twitter and Facebook pages, and its automated emails to subscribers of individual flavors.

Izzy's has a catering business as well, and a wholesale business that has signed up several upscale grocery stores and restaurants throughout the Twin Cities that now offer its products -- Kowalski's, just to name one chain.

Regarding its latest new wrinkle, "This is undoubtedly one of the first uses of RFID as a customer service application," said the company's statement. Izzy's has a history of embracing new technology, having installed solar panels in 2005. Sommers also showed those at his media briefing an innovative new cleaning system at Izzy's kitchen called "Zap Water," which is an amazingly more environmentally friendly way to maintain a germ-free, allergen-free environment.

Izzy's gets my vote as a true Minnesota innovator! Now, excuse me, I'm jumping onto their website to check if my favorite flavor is still available.

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