Gelato a cool business in times of economic crisis | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.07.2012
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Gelato a cool business in times of economic crisis

With global unemployment high, a good idea can be worth more than money. One idea with sweet promise comes from Italy. At the Gelato University, students learn the skills to make and sell this popular dessert.

Eating gelato

Less fat and not as cold as regular ice cream: gelato

For Maurizio and Barbara Cocchi, it's the ticket to what many consider to be the American dream: Here, in the northern Italian city of Bologna, they have been taking classes how to make the perfect gelato, preparing themselves for their big adventure. With the newly acquired skills, the couple is set to move to California, where the opening of their own gelateria is in its final stages.

They have been planning their new life for over a year, Maurizio says: "I did a lot of market research, especially in southern California, and I realized that there is a lot of room for it. It's a very difficult market to step into, it's challenging to find good locations, a little bit expensive, more than here, but we really believe the opportunity is there so we are pushing hard to catch it."

The Cocchis are no strangers to California; they used to import Californian surfwear to Italy. When a private equity company agreed to buy them out, they found themselves with a healthy sum to invest. That's when they decided that instead of importing California to Italy, they would try exporting Italy to California. And the choice of product, Maurizo says, was simple: "Gelato is really Italian, it's in our DNA, it's under our skin."

For the past three years, Maurizio and Barbara have taken classes at Carpigiani's Gelato University in preparation for their big move. And they're convinced their idea is going to be a winner - especially in health-conscious California, where gelato is “growing a lot, especially since people are understanding the difference between ice cream, which is heavy, fat and full of air, and, on the other hand, the gelato,” Maurizio said.

Gelato isn't ice cream

What regular ice cream and gelato have in common is the endless variety of ingredients and possible mixes; next to chocolate and vanilla flavor are extravagancies such as tomato-basil, red bean and sesame.

Gelato University graduates celebrating

For many Gelato graduates it's the start of a second career

But the initial similarities may be deceiving, as the two products differ significantly: Gelato cream consists of around 30 percent air, but regular ice cream may easily have double that. And while gelato ranges between six and eight percent fat, ice cream has usually around nine per cent or more. "Typical ice cream," Maurizio explained, "is about 12 or 13 percent. So gelato is much healthier. And its temperature is higher, so it's less cold. That makes the gelato more pleasant, and gives it a more creamy effect that Americans love."

For a year now, the Cocchis have been preparing the launch of their shop in California. Currently they are organizing suppliers of organic and specialist ingredients; they are sure it will be a success. And judging by the increasing number of gelato students, they are not alone in this belief. This certainly appears true for the Carpigiani Gelato University itself. Founded in 2003, it has now stretched far beyond its original campus in Italy, and operates eight schools around the world with locations including Tokyo, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires. Every year more than 6,000 would-be gelato entrepreneurs from all over the world register themselves for a scoop of fresh knowledge.

A business model for success?

Students in the classroom

In the classroom at the Gelato University

The university's course calendar first lists the Gelato internship, followed by an abundance of weekly gelato-making classes from beginner to advanced level, as well as sonorous modules such as "Soft 2.0," "Gelato Retail Pioneers" and the "Carpigiani Gelato Lab." Many urban locations already have plenty of ice cream shops, but Gelato University director Achille Sassoli says the market is changing - and the industry is growing, with an increase in premium gelato: "We're seeing all of the new businesses try to compete on quality by using fresh products. Many are also using regional recipes to produce gelato," Sassoli said.

According to Sassoli, the students that come to Gelato University are typically between the ages of 35 and 45. Some are architects, lawyers, art dealers and management consultants - professionals looking to make a fresh start after feeling the crunch of the financial crisis. In that sense, Maurizio and Barbara Cocchi are no exception. “We decided to go to America because yes, there is a financial crisis, but the culture [of dealing with it] is totally different; people there are used to change, it's normal to lose your job in a second. But in Italy it's very difficult to start again,” Barbara says. A friend of theirs had quite a success with a gelateria in rainy Seattle. So selling gelato in sunny California, she says, is bound to work.

Author: Dany Mitzman / ag
Editor: Simon Bone

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