By JASON BOOTH

Staff Reporter

One of L.A.'s best-known companies is undertaking a $200 million overhaul to align itself with changing consumer tastes.

Baskin-Robbins U.S.A. Co., based in Glendale, is upgrading its entire chain of 4,600 franchise ice cream shops around the world.

While the "31 Flavors" of ice cream that made the company a household name will still be available, the emphasis of the remodeled stores is on beverages.

The goal is to compete against newer beverage-based stores such as Starbucks Coffee and Jamba Juice, says Don Skeoch, Baskin-Robbins vice president of marketing.

"The bottom line is that ice cream, though still popular, is not a growth industry," he said.

The conventional stores were designed for takeout ice cream. The new layout is designed to entice people to spend more time in the shop, and to buy more products.

The harsh fluorescent lighting typical of the traditional shops will be replaced with ambient halogen bulbs. Comfortable restaurant-style chairs will replace the utilitarian plastic seats. The typical white, pink and blue color scheme will be replaced with more epicurean shades, such as French vanilla, caramel, chocolate and blackberry.

Baskin-Robbins, which is owned by U.K.-based conglomerate Allied-Domecq, has seen its sales grow at an anemic 2 percent to 4 percent in each of the last four years.

A prototype of the new style opened in the San Gabriel Valley city of Monterey Park in August. Another eight have opened since then. The company said it intends to open 100 new Stores of the Future by the end of 1998. Baskin-Robbins currently has around 2,600 stores in the U.S. and about 2,000 overseas.

Beverages are the keys to the new concept. Drinks such as fruit smoothies and iced coffee account for around 40 percent of the Monterey Park store's sales, compared with only 15 percent for a conventional Baskin-Robbins shop.

When customers enter the redesigned shops, they don't see the traditional array of ice cream tubs but a "beverage center," where drinks are prepared to order. The next most visible area displays cakes and other "celebration" desserts. Least prominent is the ice cream tub area.

For most existing franchise shops, conversion to the new style will involve a complete remodel and possibly a change of address. The franchise owner of each shop will be obliged to come up with the $40,000 to $100,000 needed for the conversion. Because the new design requires more space, Baskin-Robbins is urging its smaller franchises to move to larger sites.

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