Food & Beverage

"X" Marks The Spot. Lessons from the collab frontlines

“X Marks The Spot” is our weekly deep dive introducing you to the people, processes and inspiration behind the most impactful brand x brand collabs in the world. This week we follow a storied and beloved Ice Cream brand using collabs to express its long held values and reach new audiences.


  • Local brands working together really resonate
  • Food collabs are fun, entertaining and offer lots of scope
  • Smaller brands can work together to create huge impact

Meet Sarah Rose, Brand Director for McConnell's Ice Cream

Sarah Rose is the brand manager at 75 year old California Ice Cream brand McConnell's. After 5 years launching brands in the CPG start up space, Sarah bought lessons learned from collabs and marketing partnerships with influencers.

Her prior experience showed her that partnerships can bring an unrivaled sense of fun, entertainment and enjoyment to the brand and its products. Generating energy, enthusiasm and loyalty with employees and customers alike.

With this in mind, McConnell’s has looked for partners from different fields to create new perspectives and gain new audiences as well as to breathe new life into established and popular flavors, such as their perennial summer favorite Whiskey, & Pecan Pralines.

“I have a soft spot for non-traditional collabs that meld worlds and categories. Something a little bit different, thought provoking…that can give rise to an incredible flavor and a great name."
— Sarah Rose, McConnell's

How does McConnell's pull their collabs off?

Sarah says McConnell’s is always on the lookout for brands that can co-create products and accentuate flavors and tastes. The ice cream is always the star, with delicious natural flavors being the key. Collabs are designed to accentuate existing strengths rather than to deflect from them. Importantly it's also imperative the partners share and amplify the brand’s values of quality ingredients and being a contributor to the local economy, and producers.

As Sarah puts it, "Collabs that surprise, and yet still make sense when you think about them, and that bring their own unique spirit, value and equity."

Initially McConnell's sought brands that were local to them and has often highlighted local producer-suppliers to amplify their reputation and recognition. McConnell's has aimed to be a great partner first, and a beneficiary of the partnership second. By putting a halo around their suppliers, they put the spotlight on their quality.

 As McConnell's has become better known for highlighting their partners and for working collabs into their launches, more and more brands have reached out. Recent examples being Garrison Brothers who are now the official flavor of their Whiskey & Pecan Praline flavor, or SeaVees the Mid-Coast heritage deck shoe brand.

McConnell's first screen emphasizes a values match and an attention to quality of ingredients and only then do they look at the mix of audiences. Holding firm to the belief that if the brands match and the ice cream tastes great the audience will follow. Rose notes "It's most important that the collab is a meeting of minds. Almost everyone loves ice cream, so we look to work with brands that can help us turn a collab inspiration into a delicious flavor."

Creating impact at every level.

Whiskey & Pecan Pralines

Garrison Brothers and McConnell’s created Whiskey & Pecan Pralines together to breathe new life into an established favorite. The flavor was already a great success that customers looked forward to each year, but this collab took it to a new level.

Per Rose..."Super-high quality bourbon goes so well with super-high quality ice cream. It was a no brainer to take an already popular and sought after perennial favorite and add the Garrison's twist."

"As long as our goals and values line up we are open to anything".

McConnell's recently collabed with SeaVees the Santa Barbara based heritage pump shoe brand for a collab aligning to Pride Month. The collab created a new Sprinkles flavored ice cream and a shoe that featured the sprinkles design and McConnell’s logo in the branding. For two local brands this seemingly ambitious collab was a runaway success. 

Bringing fun and purpose into a single collab that united the heritage of the brands with a cause they both supported enthusiastically, LGBTQ California Pride. SeaVees for their part, built the sprinkles into their shoe design, devising an unmissable link between the shoe and the ice cream flavor they co-created.

Showing a spirit of adventure and ambition usually associated with larger global brands, McConnell's and SeaVees set the standard for how regional brands can work together to bring their joint assets and abilities to bear on a truly unique and brand enhancing experience.

 Both the shoes and the ice cream sold While sales are true measure of success, Rose also cites sentiment as an important marker, saying; 

"One way we measure success is not just in sales, but also the emails and calls we get when the flavor goes away. When people really miss it when its gone, or ask for it to come back…that’s when we really know we caught the imagination."

If you’d like to work with McConnell’s reach out to Sarah here If you’d like to find more opportunities like this then reach out to Andy at

Andy Heddle
Andy, heads up our business development work here at Colaboratory. Originally from England, he married a Scot and now lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two American-born daughters.