where gelato might be popular, the Pacific Northwest would have to rank near the top of the list. According to the International Dairy Foods Association, Portland is the number one city in the U.S. for ice cream sales in supermarkets. Add to that the fact that the Northwest is known as the hub of specialty coffee in North America, and youíve got the makings of the ideal marriage between espresso and gelato.
But really, the love and language of gelato can translate just about anywhere. You donít have to own an Italian-themed specialty coffee shop to offer gelato. In the same vein, not just cafes sell this flavorful menu option. It can sell equally well in drive-thrus, when savvy baristas introduce samples of new flavors to customers.
Gelato tends to take a regular coffee shop and make it a little more upscale. It is certainly more brand differentiating than ice cream, a point of difference customers remember.
Before opening our first Coffee Rush cafe' 16 years ago, we took a close look at the traditional Italian coffeehouse concept. We saw that gelato was a popular part of menus in Italy, and it has proven to be a valuable menu item at our seven Portland, Oregon locations.
Gelato: A Healthy Alternative
Gelato and coffee both possess distinct flavor profiles. They also have natural, organic characteristics. Thus, gelato can be a natural menu extension of your specialty coffee retail offerings.
When you are considering a gelato program, the very first step is research. Before introducing gelato at our Portland-area coffee business, we spent three weeks in the heart of Tuscany. What better place to do research, where the gelato experience is available on every corner? It gave us the hands-on experience we needed to prepare for our menu expansion.
While the American diet often balances on a bag of chips and a diet drink for a mid-morning snack, Europeans think nothing of having gelato before lunch, as well as in the late afternoon. Then again, gelatoís lower butterfat (4-8%, compared with ice creamís whopping 10-18%) makes it a healthier option.
Research conducted by the International Dairy Food Association found that in the first half of 2005, ice cream sales dropped 2%. The study confirmed that all categories in the frozen dessert market have gone down in sales - except the reduced fat segment. That category has seen a significant sales increase of 13%, which may be another possible reason gelato is taking off in America.
It is no wonder that national chains, from McDonaldís to Starbucks have come to terms with Americanís desire to order healthier menu items. We are continuing to see lower fat and lower calorie food and beverage options available to customers.
Studies have also found that baby boomers are concerned about following a diet that is lower in sugar, fat and dairy. They have lived adventurous, worldly lives, creating a taste for more interesting, nontraditional, ethnic flavors and products. These sophisticated consumers have already proven to be strong and loyal gelato consumers.
The Northwest is frequently recognized as a healthier part of the country, due in part because of the wide range of outdoor activities enjoyed by residents. So it is natural that they leave toward fresh fruit gelatos. Raspberry, peach, cantaloupe, mango and lemon are currently popular favorites.
A whopping 99% of all hazelnuts grown in the U.S. come from the rich soil of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Hazelnuts are a delicious gelato ingredient as well. That doesnít mean, however, that chocolate, caramel and stracciatella (chocolate chip) donít have a following. They definitely do.
Preferences in Northwest cities such as Portland parallel those of Italy. Milk-based gelato originated in Northern Italy, which has a cooler climate. Those gelato flavors sell well in Portland, while warmer Southern Italyís fruit and water-based sorbetto sell much better in hotter and more humid U.S. climates.
Promotion Through Education
Customers are accustomed to ordering specialty coffee, and in the Portland market, they tend to know a great deal about coffee. These loyal customers are very specific about the beverages they order. But the education process did not happen overnight. The same is true with gelato. Thatís where education and sampling come into play.
To create an authentic gelato experience, it helps to get the Italian perspective. At our business, we made the decision to fly in one of the representatives from our gelato supplier in Italy for a one-day seminar prior to introducing gelato on the menu. It was important for each team member to receive input from the expert. Equally important, when one person asked a question, every teammate heard the answer.
Our representative also educated the team about the attributes of gelato as compared to ice cream, sorbetto and yogurt, including its lower butterfat content, which the team could then impart to the customers.
Another integral facet of the educational process with the team is ongoing taste tests. Team members should be able to identify flavors based on experience. They should constantly sample flavors in order to better sell the gelato.
Merchandising is the key in selling gelato, and a decorative display case and point-of-sale graphics are important elements. But none is as enticing as seeing gelato swirled high in a display case with a friendly barista offering a sample of the latest flavor.
Because gelato is made with less air than ice cream, it lends itself to being piled in heaping mounds and attractively displaying it will grab the attention of customers the moment they walk into your cafe'.
We frequently see gelato served in tubs, similar to the lackluster merchandising found in national ice cream shops. They are really missing out on an ideal branding opportunity, since you make the sale with the eye and the palate. Heaping mounds entice them to try it once, and the flavor will draw them back time and again.
A Big Seller
Gelato is a big seller throughout the year, though the summer still brings the highest sales. Different flavors are sold each day. Because of its universal appeal (who doesnít like ice cream?), gelato draws customers of every demographic, from children and their parents to college students, from busy professionals to seniors. The ever-changing fresh flavors and smooth texture appeal to everyone.
Portland,Oregon natives,Lisa and Ron Yost opened their first Coffee Rush location in Beaverton,Oregon in 1992.They currently own seven Coffee Rush locations,including two cafes and five drive-thru kiosks,and are located throughout Beaverton, Aloha, Hillsboro and Oregon City.For more information,visit www.coffeerush.net.