The use of ice in Europe can be traced as far back to the days of ancient Rome. During winter, the Romans would bring it to Rome from the Alps, and then store it in underground ice houses until it was used in the summer. They even developed a way to make ice in North Africa where they would literally shield water in straw-lined pits (reflect the suns rays with their polished fighting shields) during the day. At night the temperature would fall low enough to freeze water. Pretty ingenious! Since those days many hundreds of years ago, the use of ice in Europe seemed to fall out of fashion, but today, the EPIA is once again promoting the use of ice in Europe. We, as modern day Icemen and Icewomen, are forging the way to making packaged ice an everyday commodity used by all. As members of the EPIA, we want to record the history we are making for future generations and have implemented a program we call “Freeze Frame” to tell the stories of our members. Below is the latest official Freeze Frame interview with Leopoldo Lipocelli of Ice3 in Sicily. (Interviewer) Would you tell me about your background and how you got involved with packaged ice?
(Leopoldo) I was graduated from “Sapienza – Università di Roma.” It is the largest European university by enrollment and the oldest (founded in 1303) of Rome’s four state-funded universities. In Italian, sapienza means “wisdom” or “knowledge.” The “knowledge” that I gained during those five years of studying for my degree in Industrial Mechanics has served me well. At that time, serving in the military was mandatory in Italy so after graduation, I became an officer in the Italian Army. I was stationed near Naples in the Quality Department of a Production site of heavy weapons.
After my service to my country was completed, I continued in my chosen field by joining a really interesting program at Fiat S.p.A., the Italian automobile manufacturer. I was so excited at the opportunity to be able to work abroad with different countries and cultures such as Americans, Japanese and other Europeans. I was in a Fiat Group Management Program and for five years travelled extensively and had the opportunity to take many in-house Fiat training programs in management, manufacturing economics, supply chain management, marketing, and others.
Initially I was sent to Prague, Czech Republic, where my duties as After Sales Manager included maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction while understanding the impact of warranty costs to the company and dealerships.
I then was transferred to Chicago in the U.S. where I was a Program Manager for Class 2 and 3 tractors CNH (Case and New Holland). My main job was to design small (class 2) and medium (class 3) size tractors branded CASE and NEW HOLLAND (they were different only for the external design and the colour; red for CASE and blue for NEW HOLLAND with famous CAT EYES lights, the internal parts were practically the same and were produced by a Japanese supplier. I am very proud to have been an integral part of the success of those tractors. The experience with these two products under different labels has always helped me to understand product differentiation based mainly on cosmetic differences, while maintaining basic design and manufacturing commonality of parts for reliability and cost control.
Finally, back to Italy where I worked in Torino for IVECO trucks as a Project Manager in production.
I truly believe that seeing and working in different environments and experiencing the very distinct cultural differences during those five years has helped me to appreciate and understand people better. There is much to gain from being exposed to different business approaches and behaviours. I only wish that I had the time and opportunity to continue to travel extensively and continue to learn from these differences. But just as for other Icemen, time seldom allows for it.
(Interviewer) So having an exciting early career in industrial manufacturing, what prompted you to get involved in the packaged ice industry?
(Leopoldo) After travelling in USA and many late night talks in clubs with friends from all over the world, there was often light-hearted complaining about the lack of ice in Italy and especially in Sicily. I wondered if we could change the world and start a new industry in Italy.
During my travels and working with large companies, I gained an appreciation for new projects and new adventures. I was young and so were my friends. We wanted to make a difference. In 2008, while surfing the Internet, I found an ice company near Frankfurt, Germany run by an American who gave up an investment banking career to start a packaged ice company. Like me, he could not get ice when he needed it for parties. I contacted Matt Meredith and attended the preliminary meeting that ended up being the first official meeting of what has become the European Packaged Ice Association. I was hooked–now how would I build my own ice plant?
I looked into ways that funding could be found. The old acronym “OPM,” Other People’s Money came to mind, maybe from conversations with Matt. I found a company in Italy that supports economic expansion in Italy for the Italian government. The company was Sviluppo Italia or as it is known today, Invitalia. Its charter is to help Italy expand its industrial footprint in less developed provinces within Italy. One of the ways Invitalia does this is to help new entrepreneurs build companies that will employ Italians in areas within Italy that need jobs and industry.
Simone DeMartino, my current partner, and I were two of six guys (all friends) who wanted to do something exciting. We talked to Invitalia and after much negotiation and proposal writing were offered grant support to build a factory to manufacture packaged ice in Sicily. The 200+ pages of proposals and more than a year of negotiations paid off with being offered, at that time, the largest project to young entrepreneurs supported by Invitalia. We chose to build in Termini Imerese, Sicily near Palermo partially because of the advantages offered to new companies investing there. Soon after we began, the long hours and high risks took their toll on the group, and now just Simone and I are the remaining partners in Ice3.
(Interviewer) What would you say that your company is particularly good at or specialise in?
(Leopoldo) We have considered other products such as ice art, but have decided to concentrate on cubes and crushed ice. Our specialization is to provide packaged ice wholesale to supermarkets, cash-and-carry wholesalers, beverage distributors, high volume bars and restaurants, and frozen food distributors. We feel that with the volume of ice we produce, we can provide large quantities of ice to large users and let the distributors concentrate on the smaller users. The distributors can concentrate on smaller quantity sales and deliveries and not have the headaches of manufacturing and large delivery obligations.
(Interviewer) What is your biggest challenge?
(Leopoldo) We feel that supermarkets can be a customer base. Ice in supermarkets gets good exposure and educates the customer that packaged ice is available. The public trusts products they see on supermarket shelves and in freezers and if they see our branded packaged ice in their local supermarket, it serves as a confirmation that our packaged ice is a good product. If we can introduce and place our branded packaged ice in supermarket chains, we have a lot of good exposure which will serve to convert packaged ice from a little known novelty item for home use to a product desired by more customers more often.
(Interviewer) How do you go about getting new customers whether they are large customers or distributors of your ice?
(Leopoldo) Most often we get new customers through our sales agents. One of the things we do is provide superior service and persuasively explain to customers that it is cheaper to buy packaged ice from us than to produce it themselves. This is not only true for our distributors but especially true for our distributor’s smaller customers or customers that need ice only sporadically.
(Interviewer) Are you HACCP compliant? Do you promote HACCP certified package ice and if you do, how do you promote it?
(Leopoldo) Yes, we are HACCP compliant. We are also proud to be International Featured Standard (IFS) certified. As one of the first Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-benchmarked standards in 2002, IFS was a retailer-driven, German food safety and quality standard. From that beginning, IFS expanded into France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria and other parts of Europe and now is one the best-known product certifications for food in Europe and globally. We promote food safety compliance through what we think are the right channels; for instance, we recently organized a convention with biologists, politicians, sanitary inspectors, etc. of the Sicilian territory in order to improve regulations concerning food grade ice in Sicily first, then in the rest of the country.
(Interviewer) Are you seeing any new trends emerging in the ice market today?
(Leopoldo) No new trends here in Italy–packaged ice is a fairly new market, as I said earlier. We are focusing on educating our customers to develop the habit of consuming ice all over Italy, as here people are not used to buying ice.
(Interviewer) What effect is the difficult economic climate, in which we are all working today, having on your company’s growth?
(Leopoldo) The packaged ice industry in Italy is still not mature, and this held back our growth at the beginning. However, our customers at the wholesale and retail levels are now finding that the end user is beginning to understand what packaged ice is and what it can be used for. This awareness is beginning to help our growth.
(Interviewer) What have you done to offset the Italian people’s lack of understanding about what to do with clean packaged ice?
(Leopoldo) To help educate our customers about packaged ice, we use some targeted advertising. We place ads in specialized industry magazines, conduct promotions at the point of sale, and even use big posters in high traffic areas in Sicily.
(Interviewer) Are there any specific programs that you have tried that have been successful in getting non-traditional customers for ice such as meat packers or bakeries?
(Leopoldo) We have not reached out to non-traditional users of ice at this time. However we are now hearing about initiatives that the EPIA might embark upon in the near future and would be interested to participate as a HACCP certified member if it looks profitable for our company. We have missed the annual conventions since Sevilla due to lack of time or other duties scheduled at the same time as the conventions and have missed some of the conversations about group initiatives.
(Interviewer) What has being a member of the EPIA offered to you and your business?
(Leopoldo) Not much so far, but we have not been to the conventions since 2009. Networking can be very important to growing sales through exchange of ideas and working with other members to support customers across borders. Unfortunately, we did not have the possibility to attend the last conventions and have not availed ourselves of these opportunities.
(Interviewer) What other things would you like to see the EPIA offer to you as a member?
(Leopoldo) As an HACCP certified member, we would like to see stricter regulations for all members of the EPIA. All EPIA members should be certified. If we had more HACCP certified members, the EPIA would be able to have more influence in guiding the future of packaged ice in Europe. We could join together and promote EPIA programs like disaster relief help, mass marketing on ice bags, joint marketing with camping equipment suppliers, beer and soft drink bottles, etc.
(Interviewer) What would you most like to achieve for your business?
(Leopoldo) We need to improve our distribution system to better serve our customers throughout all of Italy. If we are to expand our business off the island in a meaningful way, we need to overcome some of our logistical problems of being remote to potential customers. I would be interested in discussing how the EPIA might form a relationship with refrigeration transport or cold storage companies that can help solve our problems in serving all of Italy.
(Interviewer) And away from work, what do you do for fun?
(Leopoldo) I have a horse and enjoy riding. He is a jumper, which I really enjoy.
(Interviewer) What three things have you done in the past three years that make you most proud of your company’s achievements?
(Leopoldo) There are more than three things that I am really proud to have accomplished. The most rewarding is to have built a modern ice plant from zero and to have earned important food safety certifications. I am proud of how Ice3 has been successful in inserting our branded products into the product lines of important supermarket chains, despite a higher sales price than our competitors. We have been able to keep the value of our packaged ice high and, therefore, more profitable. At the same time we have maintained marketing initiatives that have resulted in continued increased sales. These accomplishments have earned Ice3 a coveted partnership with a world-class soft drink company. Yes, there are many things that I am proud that Ice3 has accomplished in just a very few years.
(Interviewer) Is there anything else you would like to add?
(Leopoldo) It is important to maintain a high customer perceived value for EPIA member branded packaged ice and for all of us to have more consciousness of our market and to conduct fair competition.
Until October of 2012, Leopoldo and Elsa had been living in the country between Palermo and Termini Imerese near the plant. Last July their son Leonardo was born and they decided to move into the city and now live in Palermo. Elsa is a French screenwriter and they often visit Paris and Rome for work and visits to the grandparents. Leopoldo says that he is excited to host the 2013 convention to show his factory and the history and beauty of Sicily.