Ice: A Healthy Add-on

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.

Standard Coffee Service Inc., based in New Orleans, La., is considering countertop ice machines as a way to provide iced tea, a growing business. Ken Shea, vice president of field operations, said Standard Coffee Service has seen strong success with Luzianne iced tea. An ice maker would make a natural addition. Shea said he looked at some new units at the recent NAMA national expo in Chicago.

Filterfresh Coffee Service Inc., based in Westwood, Mass., recently began offering the Kool Tek countertop ice dispenser with great success, according to Rebecca Frolik, general manager for the Southern Virginia division based in Richmond, Va. The company is renting them to support iced tea and iced coffee.

The dispensers hold the ice in a chamber near the bottom. The water fills into a tray that separates into egg-shaped pellets that are half the size of traditional ice cubes. Ice is made in less than 10 minutes.

The dispenser comes in a plumbed-in or pourover version and does not require a drain. It produces a tray of ice every seven to eight minutes and approximately 33 pounds of ice per day. It features an outer body color of metallic charcoal gray.

Frolik said customers are given a choice of renting the dispenser for $25 per month or getting it for free on the condition they buy all of their soft drinks from Filterfresh.

ICE VENDING MACHINES OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE

In addition to countertop ice dispensers, ice vending machines offer an economic alternative to stationary ice bagging depots in large retail locations.

Best Vendors, the Minneapolis, Minn.-based vending management firm, recently completed a 9-month test with an ice vending machine made by Ice Machines International. The machine, which comes equipped with remote monitoring technology and takes both cash and credit, was serviced by one of the manufacturer’s service contractors. The machine is 30 inches wide, 42 inches deep (exclusive of a 15-inch bagging shelf) and 97 inches tall. The machine sells 8-pound bags of ice for $1.75 and 16-pound bags for $2.50. The machine was placed in the front parking lot of a home improvement store and drew a lot of traffic, noted Tony McDonald, president of Best Vendors. Most purchases were cash. McDonald said a full-line vending operator would not have to inventory any product to service such a machine since it makes its own ice.

Akoona LLC introduced an ice vending machine at the recent NAMA expo featuring a Web-based monitoring system that tracks power, water, plastic bag supply, and transactions. The machine accepts cash, coin and smart cards. The machine alerts the operator remotely to any issues with production, quality control or servicing.

Mark Paulson, general manager for EZee Ice USA, LLC, which places and services Akoona machines in Houston, Texas and West Palm Beach, Fla., said the company is targeting convenience stores, parks, universities and supermarkets for the machines.

Ice House America, which makes stationary units that dispense 16- or 20-pound bags of bulk chipped ice at the push of a button, recently began testing an ice vending machine that bags ice in bags as small as seven pounds.

Refreshment service operators need to continue looking
for new products and services in order to sustain customer interest. Ice has always been a popular refreshment, and new systems make it easier for operators to offer.

For more information, contact:

Akoona LLC,
869-668-5423, www.akoona.com
Follett Corp.,
800-523-9361, www.follettice.com
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.,
800-432-4627 , www.greenmountaincoffee.com
Ice House America,
904-241-7535, www.icehouseamerica.com
Ice Machines International,
800-474-5369,www.icemachinesintl.com
Kool Tek,
877-566-5835, www.kooltekcoolers.com
Mars Drinks North America,
877-273-5812, www.myflavia.com

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