The cool tools market

Peak time is nearly here for ice maker manufacturers, when during what usually only amounts to 2 weeks of British summer time, sales will soar.

But how are suppliers gearing up for the order influx? At Stoke-based Project Distribution, it triples its stock in the run up to summer, especially as European manufacturers tend to shut down for the whole of August. “When any of our dealers have an enquiry they need to know with confidence that the machine they are specifying is in stock for immediate despatch,” said Darren Mairs, national accounts manager.

The firm is now the sole UK supplier for Icematic branded machines, which feature innovations such as Agion antimicrobial treatment impregnation, designed to reduce microbial growth through the slow release of silver ions within the icemaker. All Icematic equipment is now fitted with electronics that are said to increase reliability and reduce breakdowns by removing mechanical components such as float switches. An additional benefit of this is claimed to be advanced diagnostics and user friendly features such as built in wash cycles.

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Furthermore, some of the brand’s appliances are now available with the R290 eco friendly refrigerant which has zero ozone depletion potential and low global warming potential.

Mairs thinks that there are many more ice maker manufacturers in the market today, compared to 10 years ago. “We believe this is good for the industry as it creates a competitive market and is a major driving force behind manufacturers constantly developing new innovations to make their machines stand out from the crowd,” he said.

Manufacturer Maidaid Halcyon believes that what differentiates its offering is the depth of stock held at its warehouse in Brackley, Northamptonshire. “We pride ourselves on rarely running out of stock of any model during the summer period,” said Julian Lambert, sales director. [[page-break]]

Developed based on customer requests, Maidaid is introducing a new range of Slim modular ice machines that are 560mm wide. Lambert explained: “Space is always at a premium, whether it is for a new development or site refurbishment. In many inner city sites, older buildings have nonstandard door widths, meaning that installation engineers have to perform gymnastics and dismantling in order to install machines. Our complete view of the market also considers installation and service engineers’ requirements as this is such an important element in our efforts to satisfy customers.”

With the introduction of these new models, holding the correct stock will be even more of a challenge. “It’s this type of challenge we all enjoy, as satisfying our customers’ requirements keeps us all on our toes,” Lambert added.

The Slim machines can produce between 154 and 225kgs per day of cube ice. A first for Maidaid Halcyon is the introduction of a model in this range that uses R290 environmentally friendly hydrocarbon gases. “We are keeping our eyes on the future legislation regarding refrigerant gases and need to prepared,” said Lambert.

He believes competition is good for the market: “If you supply an honest product and offer comprehensive life support, you should be assured of success. We have always adopted this approach and are now enjoying our 41st year of supplying catering equipment.”

DC Products believes the market is not oversupplied, as ice machines have become more popular. “We at DC have seen particular growth in the cafe and coffee shop market where smoothies and iced teas and coffees are becoming the norm on menus,” said Bob Wood, director, DC Warewashing and Icemaking Systems. “Ice is being used more than ever before as chefs realise the potential that ice delivers in terms of product presentation and profit margins.”

The company has already seen an increase in enquiries and sales from distributors, well ahead of summer. As last year it extended its storage facilities from one to two units, due to its best ice maker sales year yet, the firm can store new stock in time for the peak period. [[page-break]]

“As one of the perhaps lesser known brands we are constantly striving to increase our brand presence in the market place which in turn assists our distributors,” said Wood. “Our presence on social media is also starting to take shape, which is a good way to involve distributor partners or help show case their work or latest icemaker installations.”

Currently, DC’s main advice to distributors is how to identify which ice type fits with end user requirements. “We are always informing our distributors that there are so many different ice types on the market today that all have their individual uses,” Wood explained. “Offerings have evolved from the ‘classic’ ice days which are still used in bars, restaurants and hotels today.”

Options include ‘hollow’ ice, which is particularly suited to hard water areas due to its ice manufacturing process, ‘granular’ ice (similar to crushed ice), which is suitable for cocktail bars, cafeterias, fish monger displays and care homes, as it is softer and more chewable for the elderly.

Also becoming more popular is ‘flaked’ ice, which is produced at sub zero temperatures suitable for the food industry, processing and packaging meat, fish and dairy products. Then there’s ‘pyramid’ ice which produces a high volume quick cooling ice cube suitable for bars, nightclubs hotels, supermarkets and hotels, and finally the ‘pebble’ ice machine, which has proven popular with Costa Coffee’s ‘Costa Ice’ summer drinks.

Over at Hubbard Systems, the UK supplier of Ali Group brand, Scotsman, it provides a ‘What’s your ice type’ brochure for dealers, and matches the ice type with the appropriate Scotsman machine.

Simon Aspin, commercial director of Hubbard Systems, detailed: “In the last 2 years we have really stepped up our product training with dealers, and have taken on additional sales people to support this. Most importantly, we encourage the dealers to contact us – we’re usually able to provide an answer quickly. If the dealer needs a site survey or product support we often visit the customer with the dealer. This has the added bonus of increasing the customer’s confidence in the dealer.” [[page-break]]

Aspin believes that Hubbard is good at coping with peaks in demand, having to take into account the six week period when the Italian factories shut down over the summer. “We already stock a huge variety of machines, but in the run up to the shutdown, we increase our stock of machines and parts, so there is little chance of any shortage of products or increased delays for repairs during the summer,” he said. “Maintaining a sufficient level of stock is essential, as between 88-90% of all sales are replacement purchases, which means you have to have it ready on the shelf.”

Hubbard has seen a strong trend towards energy- and water-saving features, driven by manufacturers developing new technologies and the growing demand from operators. The Scotsman Prodigy range has already achieved Energy Star status in the USA. This is said to use less water and energy, and features advanced diagnostics. It’s also possible to manage ice production based on seasonal demand.

Furthermore, Hubbard has introduced a new ice concept made specifically to meet the needs of new ice consumers, such as coffee shops, called Essential Ice. This produces ice that melts slowly but is made quickly, using a small footprint, and is soft enough to be processed in a blender.

Scotsman is launching new products later in the year and according to Aspin: “The market can’t be oversupplied for any length of time as suppliers either pull out or change what they supply. Scotsman operates more in the premium area of the market offering products unique to us which meet our customers’ requirements.”

Manufacturer Hoshizaki disagrees with this view, with Mike Simmons, national sales manager, feeling that the market is definitely oversupplied. “This is primarily due to the influx of low cost ice machines which are usually sold online,” he said. “The low prices attract end users, who may not fully understand how an ice maker works, and the necessity and cost of maintenance etc.”

He believes it is important that the end user has a good understanding of the service life of an ice machine before making the decision to purchase. “Value for money should be calculated, not just on purchase price, but on the full service life of the product. It really is worth doing a little research before making a decision as, sometimes, a slightly higher investment will prove to be the most economic buy.” [[page-break]]

Approximately 4 years ago, Hoshizaki redesigned its IM range of cube machines, aiming to make them as energy and water efficient as possible. In addition to this, the firm is in the process of introducing hydrocarbon refrigerated machines which, as well as being eco-friendly, should save energy. Currently, three machines, the IM 240A, IM-240D and IM 130, are available as hydrocarbon models but more will be available soon.

The machines make ice cubes with their own, dedicated jet of water and the larger jet opening is said to lengthen the time before scale build up. In addition, these machines make ice at -25°C, which is claimed to make the cubes long lasting.

With its own, dedicated UK manufacturing facility, Hoshizaki can respond rapidly to dealer demand. This enables stock to be replenished quickly should there be an unprecedented number of sales.

The company places great importance on its dealer network and is committed to working as closely as possible with them. “Dealers are responsible for the vast majority of our sales and, therefore, have great insight into what the market demands and which products are best suited to an application,” commented Simmons.

Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM) is also working together with dealers, in its case, to supply Manitowoc ice machines. The supplier is offering dealers a 10% discount off the new Sotto range of undercounter icemakers, with the promotion timed to give maximum impact by covering the whole of the key summer sales period, from 1 May to 31 August.

The discount applies to all seven Sotto models, which have a range of capacities from 18kg to 85kg per day. The UG40 self-contained model features a high-yield air-cooled ice refrigeration system that produces 43% more ice than previous models, creating up to 45kg of ice cubes per day, and storing 25kg in its integral ice bin. The machines make large, 20g gourmet ice cubes which are said to be clear and long lasting. FEM is also now offering an improved 3 year parts and labour warranty as standard on the Sotto range.

Suppliers are also looking for evidence of a machine’s energy saving abilities. Manitowoc’s NEO range has achieved Energy Star accreditation and is claimed to lower energy consumption by at least 10% and water usage by at least 25% compared to previous models. [[page-break]]

The range also has a feature to allow the operator to set a 4, 12 or 24 hour delay before the machine automatically resumes ice production. In this way energy costs can be cut by scheduling ice production levels to take advantage of off-peak energy rates or to keep pace with varying demand throughout the week, for example by stopping ice production on days when a venue is closed or only open for a limited time.

Elsewhere, Gram has noticed a marked increase in the popularity of ice flakers in 2014 and 2015, for use in cocktail making. This is particularly the case for mixologists and outlets trying to distinguish their drinks and their outlet with a point of difference. The opportunity to use different styles of ice, such as ball ice, is now appealing to a wider majority of bar tenders as well.

Therefore the manufacturer can supply a ball ice machine, which is said to offer little dilution, as the ice cubes melt slowly. The appliance is claimed to be easy to clean and maintain, with a removable air filter and door gaskets and a hygienic stainless steel exterior.

Gram’s ice machine portfolio is equipped with a closed water circuit system that offers protection against water contamination by reducing the number of points at which the system can be compromised. The use of fresh water in each production cycle is said to further prevent the entry of impurities and be the key factor in producing clear, high quality ice. As standard, all Gram IM machines are micro-computer controlled which should enable the ice making process to perform at its optimum level without having to make any manual adjustments.

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