Not so long ago, ice used to be seen as the domain of cold fizzy drinks and cocktails, but these days everything from smoothies and milkshakes to iced coffees and draught cider are packed with cubes to keep the contents of the glass fresh.
Modern beverage equipment allows increasing numbers of operators to offer these types of drinks and ice plays an integral role in upselling those for healthier profits.
Suppliers insist it is leading to an unprecedented increase in demand for high quality ice and more enquiries about ice machines. As one manufacturer puts it, “there is more money in ice than ever before”.
The market is currently witnessing a strong trend towards energy- and water-saving features, which is partly driven by manufacturers developing new technologies but also by increasing demand from operators, especially the groups and chains, which literally get through tons of ice each year.
Anthony Matthews, sales and marketing executive at Classeq, says: “We see a trend for larger storage and the need for more flaked ice for cocktails. Ice and water dispensers that produce up to 237kg of nugget ice per day are also popular with restaurants.”
Simon Aspin, commercial director of Hubbard Systems, the UK Scotsman supplier, cites self-dispense for ‘bottomless drinks’ as a growing market trend, especially for fast food and family diner outlets.
“A self-dispensing ice machine is the most hygienic way to deliver the ice to the drink, especially using a magic eye (no hands) system. However, as there is no access to the storage bin by the operator, the machines need servicing every six to 12 months.”
Hoshizaki has noted an increase in sales of its lower capacity machines to smaller outlets which, in the past, were often driven exclusively by initial outlay and consequently bought cheaper machines that would be replaced after a short time.
“Perhaps because of the recent financially-testing times, more people are considering all the cost implications of a purchase — initial outlay, running costs and longevity,” suggests national sales manager, Mike Simmons.
Investment from manufacturers to make their technology easier to operate remains forthcoming. Aspin at Hubbard notes that with many Scotsman models now, jobs like condenser cleaning and scale removal can be done in a couple of minutes by staff.
“This ‘designed-in simplicity’ in terms of maintenance can reduce costs and the size of the equipment’s carbon footprint,” he says.
Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager at FEM, which supplies Manitowoc ice machines, says that ice hygiene is also having an impact on the market. For a start, it is leading to more machines being fitted with advanced diagnostics to ensure the utmost purity of the ice with the minimum energy use.
“For consistency of ice production, a machine with ice-sensing technology can measure ice thickness and water conditions and adjust accordingly. Ice clarity technology regulates the water usage to improve quality in hard water areas. A sensing probe can constantly monitor the incoming water quality and provide alerts if it needs attention.”
Perhaps the biggest indicator of how important ice has become to the modern day caterer is the emphasis on the physical shape and density of ice that the unit can produce.
“These days customers are not going out to buy an ice machine, they are buying the ice type,” says Bob Wood, director at DC Products. “There are so many different ice types on the market today that all have their individual uses. Nowadays ice machines are much more highly demanded within any kitchen or bar due to the versatility from the ice it produces.”