Ice system co. proposes heating up profit margins

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. —Ice is a high-margin business, but one the drug channel has not embraced. A new system, the Ice Gourmet, is out to change all that. The company wants to create a brand for ice, change the way it’s distributed and increase retailers’ margins in the process.

“Historically, bagged ice has been the No. 1 margin category for retailers with margins as high as 100%,” said John Williams, president of San-I-Vend, creator of the Ice Gourmet system. “But there are problems with the way ice is bagged and distributed. Consumers view it as a commodity product.”

Gourmet ice cubes are solid, block cubes that are made with purified water. The cubes have been covered by Food & Wine and Gourmet magazines, and are “hailed by bartenders for their slow melting qualities,” Williams said. The cubes don’t congeal with other cubes to form that giant mass of ice consumers are accustomed to getting in a bag.

The Ice Gourmet system brings production to the retailer with a backroom unit that includes a commercial ice-maker, along with a standard point-of-sale ice freezer. The ice-maker has a 30-in. by 30-in. footprint—not much bigger than a soda vending machine. The front-of-store freezer is 2 ft. to 3 ft. wide, depending on the model.

Store employees make ice as needed. “Anyone can be trained to make ice, and the ice bags can be filled in seconds,” Williams said.

The product also can retail at a higher price because it no longer is viewed as a commodity item. That means margins can be 200% to 300% on a product that normally retails for less than $2 a bag.

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