Mrs. Fields cookies and TCBY yogurt are vying for a comeback — together.
The two faded chains have partnered to get a bigger slice of the dessert market. Famous Brands International, the chains' parent company, has created a dessert shop featuring both brands and plans to open several of the stores in the Los Angeles area.
TCBY, which stands for "The Country's Best Yogurt," expanded rapidly after opening its first store in Little Rock, Ark., in 1981. But it lost its way in the frozen yogurt craze and has closed almost 1,500 stores since 2011. It's down to about 650 stores — none in L.A.
Likewise, Mrs. Fields has closed 60% of its stores since 1993 as competitors such as Auntie Anne's and Cinnabon popped up in malls across the country. Mrs. Fields has 400 locations worldwide, 16 at L.A. malls.
Mrs. Fields' owner purchased TCBY in 2000, but the company filed for bankruptcy eight years later, and then restructured in 2011 to become Famous Brands International.
David Bloom, chief operating officer of Famous Brands, acknowledged that the chains have been in a rut. Sales of both fell about 7% last year, according to Technomic, a restaurant industry research firm.
After Z Capitol Partners purchased Famous Brands last summer, the company decided to pair the two chains in an attempt to revive growth and profits.
"We feel we now have a significantly better offering, so we feel comfortable coming back," Bloom said.
The company has already doubled its store openings compared to last year, Bloom said. Dual-branded stores account for 80% of that growth.
The new shops are the latest example of dessert chains expanding their menus to stay afloat in a saturated market, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst with the NPD Group.
Crumbs Bake Shop is planning to reopen with a wider dessert selection, and Red Mango Frozen Yogurt recently added sandwiches, wraps and salads with its sister company, Smoothie Factory, to become more of a cafe.
Riggs said although Mrs. Fields and TCBY suffered from overexpansion, high rents and changing trends, their strong brand recognition gives them a leg up. "People will try them again," Riggs said.
The dual-brand concept could be a game changer for the company, agreed Mary Chapman, director of product innovation for Technomic.
"Pairing a frozen dessert with a bakery style treat hedges trends," Chapman said. "If consumer tastes shift from one, the other is there to back it up."
Bloom said he believes that an updated image and TCBY's healthy options will appeal to L.A. consumers. Four dual-concept stores are slated to open in L.A. within six to eight months with seven more set to open in the county. Mrs. Fields' existing mall locations will add frozen yogurt, starting with a store in the Santa Anita fashion mall.
At the new shops, customers can order a variety of TCBY frozen yogurts, including a vegan option and one mixed with Mrs. Fields brownies. Cookie-and-yogurt sandwiches, muffins and coffee are also offered.
Each store will also have a Mrs. Fields gift station where customers can customize and ship red tins filled with baked goods worldwide.