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Ice cream sales may have cooled off in the past few years, but consumers are expected to be melting over the frozen treat once again. "I think we've reached the turning point where the industry is going to bounce back," said Andy Brennan, a market analyst for IBISWorld. "We're certainly forecasting a rebound." That rebound is mostly benefiting mom-and-pops and small chains, rather than the big players, as consumer tastes are shifting toward premium products and local ingredients, as well as more customizable and portion-controlled options. Think taro and black sesame at New York’s Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, or pineapple coconut jalapeno at Austin, Texas-based Amy’s Ice Creams, which now has 15 stores. From 2008 to 2013, combined revenue declines of the three major players — Dairy Queen, Baskin-Robbins and Cold Stone Creamery — were faster than the overall category. Now, however, they are showing signs of recovery. Brennan cited Baskin Robbins' revenue growth of 1.9 percent from 2012 to 2013 as a sign of the future.
—Bo McMillan, special to CNBC.com.