Rhode Island ice cream in China

Updated: 2015-04-07 10:40

By Paul Welitzkin in New York(China Daily USA)

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Rhode Island ice cream in China

A Warwick Ice Cream cart at a car show heldlast July at Goddard Park in Rhode Island. [Provided to China Daily]

Iconic New England brand makes trip in refrigerated cargo ships

Around April 15, 2,000 gallons of a sweet and creamy product that left Boston Harbor on March 1 will arrive in China. It's ice cream made by an 85-year-old company in Rhode Island, which hopes the country will be its latest market.

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

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

Haagen-Dazs, which basically created the premium ice cream market in the United States, is also a big seller in China according to Bucci. Back in the 1990s, the Chinese had very little dairy in their diet. 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 expects the 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 America. 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 Charlie Bucci over to his homestead/farm that had dairy cows.

He suggested that Charlie look at the herd of cows as a business opportunity. At first Charlie started a milk company and then bought the land where the ice cream plant sits today, and opened a shop that sold burgers and hot dogs. Eventually he expanded the milk business to include ice cream. Today Warwick Ice Cream employs about 20 people who produce over 2 million gallons of ice cream and other frozen dessert products annually.

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 back packs 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.

Bucci said they hope to carve out a profitable section of the Chinese ice cream market. "We aren't really looking to go head-to-head with Haagen-Dazs," he said. "We just want to continue to make the same high-quality product on the equipment my grandfather bought over 80 years ago."

Philadelphia-based Bassetts Ice Cream, which describes itself asAmerica's oldest ice-cream company, has also been shipping ice cream to China, according to a Bloomberg report in 2014.