Business / Companies

Rhode Island ice cream firm aims for scoop of China market

By PAUL WELITZKIN (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-08 09:43

Next week, a large shipment of a sweet and creamy product that left Boston Harbor on March 1 is scheduled to arrive in China. It is ice cream made by an 85-year-old company in the state of Rhode Island, which hopes the country will be its latest market.

"We are sending the ice cream in refrigerated cargo containers," said Tom Bucci, a fourth-generation family member who runs Warwick Ice Cream. "The trip to China takes anywhere from 45 to 50 days."

Bucci said that the buyer in China, who will distribute Warwick Ice Cream, sought him out and specified the flavors that he believed will be successful in China. "We will make a premium ice cream in everything from vanilla to sea salt caramel," Bucci said.

Haagen-Dazs, a brand owned by General Mills Inc, basically created the premium ice cream market in the United States. That brand is also a big seller in China, according to Bucci. As the country's economy has expanded so has the demand for milk, cheese and ice cream.

"From what I have been told, the Chinese now want to be a lot like us," said Bucci.

Euromonitor International, a market-research concern, said in a January report that it expected demand for premium ice cream in China to increase.

"In first-and second-tier cities, consumers will benefit from higher income levels, with strong brand awareness also encouraging an increasing preference for premium ice cream. This trend will encourage more international brands to launch premium ice cream in China," the report said.

The story of Warwick Ice Cream represents a typical chapter of the immigrant experience in the United States. Bucci's grandfather, Charlie Clemente Bucci, arrived in the US from Italy.

He went to work for a mill in Warwick and the mill's owner invited him over to his homestead, which had dairy cows.

He suggested that the elder Bucci look at the herd of cows as a business opportunity.

Charlie started a milk company and then bought the land where the ice cream plant now sits, and he also opened a shop that sold burgers and hot dogs. Eventually he expanded the milk business to include ice cream. Now, Warwick Ice Cream employs about 20 people.

Tom Bucci credits another entrepreneur for introducing Warwick Ice Cream to the Chinese buyer.

"We know a lot of entrepreneurs and one of them was selling backpacks in China. He was dealing with the same buyer and when the buyer said he wanted to bring in American ice cream, he introduced him to us," said Bucci.

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