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How to turn a commodity into a great customer experience

It came as something of a surprise to us when we learned that The Ice Co, based out of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, had been awarded best SME brand of the year at the Grocer Gold Awards. This company produces 400 tons of what is surely the ultimate commodity product - ice. Where is the customer experience in that? We had to investigate. Here is what we found out.

Legacy: the first thing we discovered, and it amazed us, is this is one of the oldest private companies in the UK. It was founded by Joseph Marr in 1860 when he saw the benefits of preserving fish on a bed of ice. It wasn't long before Marr abandoned fishing and concentrated on making ice for trawler companies. This focus on ice and the passion for the business within the Marr family is one of the key reasons for its success.

Technological innovation: ice was originally carved out of frozen lakes, a dodgy supply chain if ever there was one as it is subject to the whims of the weather. Because ice is the product at the heart of The Ice Co, it has always invested in the latest equipment. In the 1980s the company boomed after investing in a Canadian ice making machine from Vogt which produces cylinder cubes familiar to packaged ice users today. Those cubes are fair enough if all you want is to cool your drink. However a drink can be turned into something special, if it contains a good-looking piece of ice. The Ice Co developed a machine to spray water upwards into an inverted mould where, when frozen, out pops glassy, dense ice cubes which they called the Super Cube. They now had something that could be admired in a glass of spring water, spritzer or cocktail.

Target audience: The Ice Co knows its place in the supply chain. Its ice will only end up in your glass if it is bought by the bar or restaurant or the supermarket where you shop. It is not worth these critical members of the supply chain stocking more than one brand of ice and so The Ice Co made sure that the brand on the shelves was theirs. By giving the supply chain what it wants, they have been able to dominate and keep the competition out.

Coat tailing: ice is never consumed for its own sake. It is used to keep something cool and most frequently is used in drinks. Even in the U.K.'s cold climate, drinkers have woken up to the excitement of a glass of something clinking with ice. This led The Ice Co to launch "Party Ice". It was a pretty cool way of "selling the sizzle". Magners, the cider company, ran a hugely successful promotion which, with the clink of ice and hiss of the cider had people salivating. Coke, Bacardi, Martini and the whisky companies have also popularised the necessity of serving ice in your drink. The Ice Co made sure they were on the coat tails of these campaigns.

So hats off to The Ice Co. It has become the U.K.'s leading supplier of ice, not by selling frozen water, but selling a product that turns a drink into a party experience.


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