Customers want to cut back on break room services in a difficult economy, but they are also looking for new and exciting products, particularly those that support a healthy lifestyle. Astute refreshment service operators are finding that countertop ice dispensers are popular with consumers since ice is refreshing and some of the newer dispensers are more convenient than larger machines.
Ice is a popular treat as it provides a novel way to quench one’s thirst. It is also a necessary ingredient for chilled water, iced tea and iced coffee. Some of the new countertop ice dispensers make soft, chewable ice that consumers cannot get from their refrigerator ice box.
The countertop units are smaller and easier to maintain than more traditional ice makers. The machines dispense ice by means of a lever, so there is no contact with human hands. The countertop units are also more economical; they are available for a few hundred dollars. There are both pourover and plumbed-in options available.
Aramark Refreshment Services has found the units a great complement for iced coffee, which is popular. Barry Bleahen, an associate vice president for the company, said Aramark placed a few hundred units this past summer, marking its entry into break room ice dispensing.
Bleahen said in the past, Aramark only placed ice dispensers in locations that were large enough to justify a machine costing thousands of dollars. The location also had to have a drain available.
Another benefit to the countertop units is they are quiet.
Bleahen said Aramark customers brew coffee directly into 16-ounce glasses filled with ice. The coffee pours right into the glass from an airpot brewer or a single-serve machine.
Bleahen noted that two single-cup providers, Mars Drinks North America and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc., recently introduced coffees to be chilled. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. has an iced tea K-Cup.
Aramark typically charges a rental for the ice dispenser. “It’s very much in demand for our clients,” Bleahen said.
For operators expanding into water service, ice marks a natural add-on. To date, the dedicated water service operators are leading the charge.
Steamline Water, based in Phoenix, Ariz., primarily leases water coolers, but recently began offering countertop ice dispensers, for which there is a big demand in the hot weather market. “After a while, I was passing up too many leads (to offer ice),” said Marc Richter, company president.
Richter said established ice machine dealers typically lease machines on an 18-month basis. Using one of the newer countertop units from Follett Corp., Richter is able to offer 5-year terms that many customers appreciate.
Richter said a combination water/ice dispenser he offers will lease for $125 to $250 per month. This covers periodic filter changes.
DISPENSERS: MORE ECONOMICAL THAN ICE DELIVERY
Ice dispensers are much more economical for locations than having ice delivery, Richter said. Some locations spend $3,000 a month on ice delivery.
Richter said offering ice has proven a competitive advantage since most of his water service competitors don’t offer it.
He initially used a larger machine that required an outside service contractor. With the Follett unit, he can handle the service himself. The modular, removable ice dispensing mechanism is located behind a splash panel for easy service access and complete storage bin access for cleaning and sanitizing. It can store 25 to 50 pounds of ice in addition to water.
Health Concepts LLC, a Burr Ridge, Ill.-based innowave® dealer, began placing plumbed-in ice dispensers two years ago, noted Mark Howard, president. The company spends between $2,500 and $5,500 on a system, some of which are water/ice combinations, on which it realizes a 15 to 20 percent profit margin on a 5-year lease. Howard said there is a good business in aftermarket service and supplies.