Talk of soft ice cream and fruity gelato might evoke images of vintage ice cream vans and summer holidays, but it’s hotel, pub and restaurant chains that have really cottoned on to the profit potential of serving quality frozen desserts. One brand at the heart of this transition is Carpigiani, the eminent ice cream and gelato machine maker. FEJ editor Andrew Seymour met UK sales director Scott Duncan to discover how advances in technology are making its machines a must-have in every commercial kitchen.
Tell us about Carpigiani’s background in the UK. What’s the history of the operation?
Carpigiani has had a presence in the UK since around 1993. That was a very small office and it was targeted towards looking after key accounts, so mainly the quick service restaurants like McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King. On top of that, Carpigiani was always sold via different dealers in the UK who had different agreed territories. But then Carpigiani changed its strategy globally and decided that it wanted to have dedicated branches in specific countries and dealers and distributors in others. The UK was one of the key countries from a strategic point of view where it wanted to have a branch. There were a couple of reasons for that: Carpigiani has a very strong history of soft ice cream in the UK through quick service restaurants, so it was considered key to have a presence in the UK to be able to both service existing customers and develop new chain accounts. Carpigiani UK in its current format was born around 2006 and the UK operation is headed up by Paul Ingram. Paul has got a long history of working with Carpigiani because his family business, which was set up by his father, was one of the original dealers.
What sort of organisational structure do you have in the UK?
Set-up wise we have five area sales managers that cover the UK, and they would sell to what we would call general market or end-user customers, so that could be a single ice cream shop, a baker, a fish and chip shop or a restaurant owner. Then we have three people that look after what we call national accounts, so that would be chain business in the UK across all sectors, and another three who look after and support key accounts. Key accounts are those that were historically managed from Bologna, so McDonald’s and KFC for example. We now manage those locally from the UK as well. Our service operation is run from our head office in Hereford, where we have got a technical service manager, two service supervisors, a service desk manager and five assistants who answer the service calls and issue calls to engineers. We have got national coverage through more than 40 engineers, although they are not all directly employed by Carpigiani — we do use some sub-contractors as well.
Do you get any advantages from being part of a large organisation like the Ali Group, or do you operate autonomously?
It is always good to be known as part of the Ali Group because that gives customers confidence, it gives them stability and they know that we are not going to go away when we sell equipment to them. The Ali Group strategy as a whole has always been for each of the companies to run independently, so we don’t share contacts or information or anything across the different companies, we operate independently. But I do think there still is an added value to be part of such a great organisation.
Where does the majority of your business in the UK come from?
With regards to customer profile, we are very lucky that we operate across all foodservice sectors. Historically, and as is the case today, the majority of our business in terms of volume of machines comes from quick service restaurants and fast food. However, there is a growing trend towards artisan gelato and production equipment for gelato, so we see restaurant chains, hotel groups and pub groups being a key focus moving forward.
Carpigiani has previously positioned its machines as a way for operators to generate huge profit returns. Is that still your main selling point?
I think everyone is interested in making profit, of course they are. With the purchase of a Carpigiani machine, customers get reliability, longevity and service — and people are really looking at service as important now. Those three elements are key for us. I think we have got technology that merges with tradition, and that is a key factor for us as well. People expect Carpigiani to be at the forefront of the technology and I think they expect a lot of R&D to be put into the brand, which it is. But you are certainly correct about the profit potential. On soft ice cream, an ice cream can cost 12p to produce and on average in the UK you would sell it for around £1.80 and anything up to £2.50 to £3 in London. On artisan gelato, you can make a five-litre tray for around £5. From that you get 40 portions, so at £2 a scoop you are getting £80 back for your £5 cost, which is a pretty healthy margin. When we sit down with customers, we really go through the profit story and we use an internal profit calculation tool so that the customer can identify what they think the sales pattern is going to be and work out the return. Importantly, we can then work out the return on investment on the machine.
How many products do you have in the range? And what does the product pipeline look like?
Our products are simply split into two key product families: ‘professional’ and ‘solutions’. Professional would cover all artisan equipment and solutions would cover all soft equipment. The key family of artisan products includes pasteurisers, which are used for the production of the base; batch freezers, which are used to produce the base into gelato; ageing vats, which are used to hold the product; and the Maestro, which is used for a hot and cold process. From each of those machines there are probably five to seven models of each, which makes around 35 to 40 models in total. Then on the soft ice cream machines we have got countertop, floor-standing, single flavour, twin flavour, with syrup injection, yoghurt, plus you have got variations in terms of footprint, capacity and energy consumption. Again, there are probably 40 models so as a rough estimation overall I would say there are between 80 and 100 models.
On soft ice cream, an ice cream can cost 12p to produce and on average in the UK you would sell it for around £1.80 and anything up to £2.50 to £3 in London”
You recently launched a machine called ‘Mister Art’. How significant is that?
The Mister Art is the newest model within our range. It was launched at SEGIP in Rimini, which is the big show for ice cream, bakery and pastry. It is really a combination of the two families. It looks like a soft ice cream machine but it has been designed to produce an artisan product, so soft gelato. Operators can use to it produce single portions, ice cream cakes and gelato on a stick.
Can we expect to see any future technical changes in the way ice cream machines are made?
I think that the main way that the machines freeze and turn the product from liquid to gelato will remain the same because there is a science behind that. Technology-wise, where we see a little bit of an advantage is via our Teorema system. Teorema is a remote monitoring and diagnostic system for the machines, so through a PC, tablet or smartphone you can monitor the machine, look at its performance, find out when it was last cleaned and assess whether it needs a health check. So it is not so much about changes in the actual machine in future, but advances with regards to the support technology.
What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream?
Gelato Ice cream
Fat content 0.8% 10%-18%
Overrun 30%-40% 50%-100%
Serving temp 5-10F 0-5F
Flavour profile Rich/fully body character Lighter/airy
Gelato is the Italian word for frozen and was first invented in Florence, Italy, in the 16th century. On average it contains 50% less air than ice cream. Gelato is churned at lower speeds to incorporate just the right amount of air, resulting in a creamier and denser product.