By Tim O'Connor
As foodservice reaches into new locations, operators must bring the kitchen along with them. For many, one key piece of equipment is the ice machine. Kevin Clark, president of Scotsman Ice, a longtime manufacturer of ice-making equipment, believes ice is not simply a way to keep drinks cold, but an integral part of the beverage experience for increasingly discerning consumers. “Our machines make an ingredient, ice, so we want it to be the best it can be,” he says.
Purity is paramount. A cloudy ice cube is indicative of contaminants that can alter a drink’s flavor. Producing clear-looking ice on Day 1 is expected of any machine, but Clark says his company strives to deliver the same quality on Day 1,000. The company’s machines use a grid-style evaporator that prevents sediment build up and it’s working with suppliers to produce Scotsman Ice-branded filters that will improve sanitation. At the same time, it’s developing features such as one-touch cleaning cycles to enhance preventative maintenance and extend the life of its machines. “The easier it is to clean, the more likely it will be cleaned,” Clark says.
Advancements such as one-touch cleaning are being driven by the consumer and foodservice operator, but Scotsman is working on other improvements that touch the entire channel. Historically, the ice machine business has been a seasonal market. The bulk of equipment orders are placed in the summer months when there is a greater demand for cold drinks and the increased strain on older ice machines leads to breakdowns and replacements. In the past, the company managed the ebb and flow by varying its production rates to match seasonal demand, however, that often led to protracted lead times during the slower periods of the year.
When Clark took over as president of the Illinois-based company three-and-a-half years ago, shortening lead times and order delivery was one of his first goals. Scotsman Ice soon switched to a consistent manufacturing schedule and began managing the seasonality through inventory rather than production, a change that led to greater satisfaction among customers and its internal sales team. Equipment is now stocked in accordance with the 80/20 rule, with the most popular machines always available.
The company was able to make the investments necessary to shift away from the seasonal model thanks to the backing of its parent company, Ali Group. “As a company in the Ali Group organization, we have the latitude to take a longer view, in terms of customer support and not react to short-term demands,” Clark says.
By not having to react to short-term market changes, Scotsman Ice has been able to keep its focus solely on the manufacturing and sale of ice machines and accessories, unlike many competitors, which tend to offer ice machines as just one product in a larger portfolio of kitchen equipment. Clark contends that his company’s narrower market gives it an edge when it comes to R&D and technical service because its engineers have a more specific area of expertise than those at other manufacturers. “I believe it helps us serve the market better,” Clark claims.
Serving the market better also means being able to react quickly to emerging foodservice trends. As consumer tastes evolve, foodservice operators need machines that can keep pace. In recent years, chewable ice nuggets and top-hat-shaped gourmet cubes for upscale bars and fine dining have grown in popularity, while slow-melting ice flakes have become a common element in serving and food displays. Scotsman Ice has responded by developing ice making machines for those different applications.
The large cube trend has been especially prevalent in Europe, Clark says, thanks to the continent-wide craft coffeehouse phenomena. Additionally, Europeans tend to favor a single large ice cube in their drinks to preserve the purity of their beverage and avoid the watered-down taste that occurs as smaller cubes melt. Scotsman Ice has kept up with the expanding European ice market through its sister brand and manufacturing facility in Milan.
With larger ice cubes already the norm in Europe, Clark says the trend is growing in the United States alongside rising interest in craft cocktails. However, creating ice that appeals to seasoned scotch drinkers is more difficult domestically because the volume of ice demand conflicts with new U.S. Dept. of Energy conservation standards requiring commercial ice makers to use 10 to 25 percent less energy, which are expected to save the typical operator $200 to $800 over the life of the machine and reduce nationwide electricity consumption by 19 billion kWh over the next 30 years, according to the agency.
The regulations were announced in 2015 and went into effect at the beginning of the year. To prepare for the change, Scotsman Ice halted nearly all new product development and refocused its engineers on adapting its existing line to the stricter standards.
With that process now completed, the company has restarted development on new ice machines. This past spring, the company released two new undercounter machines and it resumed work on a more robust freezer design for producing its chewable nugget ice. This design had already been implemented in Scotsman’s ice and water dispenser products, prior to the new DOE standard efforts.
Clark says other innovations will show up at The NAFEM Show in 2019. “We are looking forward to a pretty robust pipeline of new products coming out over the next three to four years as we complete these projects,” he adds. ■