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Neither starbucks coffee Co. nor its marketing partner Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream were quite prepared for the initial success of Starbucks ice cream when four premium flavors were introduced in March 1996, with little testing.

Caffe Almond Fudge, Dark Roast Espresso Swirl, Italian Roast Coffee and JavaChip appeared in freezer cases, and with slight publicity the sinfully rich ice creams began to fly off the shelves.

"Sales exploded almost immediately, and within four months we were selling the No. 1 coffee ice cream flavor in the nation," says Shari Fujii, 35, a veteran of Walt Disney Co. and Kraft Foods recruited in 1996 as marketing manager for Starbucks Ice Cream Partnership, a joint venture of the two companies.

Powered by the strong brand power of Starbucks' 1,500 coffee stores nationwide, publicity efforts through the media and a one-time, limited outdoor advertising campaign via Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, the product virtually sold itself, she says.

"The concept of putting rich coffee, which consumers have already told us they love, together with premium ice cream, another major obsession for consumers, was just the right thing at the right time," she says.

Ms. Fujii in part credits Starbucks' success to the decision to use quart containers, versus the half-gallon or pint sizes popular with existing major ice cream brands.

Last year, Other entries included Biscotti Bliss, Vanilla MochaChip and Low Fat Mocha Mambo.

This year, Starbucks created its first non-coffee flavored ice cream-a decadent Chocolate Chocolate Fudge. Company personnel say its latest frozen novelty, Java Bar, coated in rich chocolate, is its most decadent and fattening offering of all.

"We added far more products than we initially expected, learning as we went what consumers were responding to," says Ms. Fujii.

Starbucks is continuing to develop new products and frozen novelties next year, but Ms. Fujii says she is prepared.

"The StairMaster has become my partner in this enterprise," she says.

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