Italy’s finest ice cream was actually born right here in Brum – and it’s been licking the competition ever since!
With a name like Joe Delucci’s, Italian ice cream can hardly be more, well, Italian… can it? Which makes the fact that the brand is actually the brainchild of two mates from right here in the Midlands enough to make you drop your ‘99’ in amazement. Joe Delucci’s is a name you’ll have seen around quite a bit, whether over the doors of their rapidly expanding and hugely popular retail parlours ¬– there’s a cracker in the new Grand Central – or in the chill cabinets in supermarkets and big food stores. Fact of the matter is that this is real Italian gelato, made in Italy as only the Italians know how. And as anyone who has sampled any of the 39 (and counting) delicious flavours will tell you, Joe’s is just about the best there is!
So how did partners Richard Pierce, pictured, and Nigel Langstone set about licking their rivals? They got together just over 10 years ago when Nigel convinced ‘old drinking buddy’ Richard to help him set up an ice cream import business. Nigel had been pondering the idea of bringing gelato to the UK for a while after spending time in Italy had convinced him that their ice cream was so much better than ours. After finding an exclusive supplier in Turin using traditional methods and ingredients, the duo took their ice cream to a food buyers’ show in Brum. A couple of wholesalers to restaurants loved what they tasted and the new Joe Delucci’s had its first customers. To push the brand to a wider market and deal with customers direct, the pair opened a kiosk in Leamington Spa. It was so successful with the punters that another 20 were launched around the country. Then in 2012, Joe Delucci’s cracked the supermarkets, like Tesco, with ice cream being supplied to hundreds of stores. Today, the company based in Lighthorne has a turnover well in excess of £5 million with more than 150 employees, including staff at a number of franchises. Richard, who lives in Solihull, said: “There are three arms to the business – wholesale food, grocery and retail. Retail was the beginning and a test ground for the product to see how welcoming the British public would be of gelato. Exposure to gelato 10 years ago was narrow, but now it’s prevalent. We were pioneers of that.” (Gelato is served slightly warmer than ‘normal’ ice cream to let the taste of the natural ingredients come through, and also unlike your regular supermarket tub it’s not packed full of air to ‘plump’ it up!) Richard and Nigel chose shopping malls because there’s a decent footfall, they’re undercover and easier to manage (they opened in the Bullring in 2009). They can also be incredibly stylish – Joe’s signature is its Italian scooters-themed décors. Retail allowed the business to grow at a decent pace and laid the foundations. It gave them the strength to launch into grocery and wholesale. Grand Central was a big investment and Richard says they’re pleased to be there. “It’s a great environment with good quality customers,” he said.
MELON AND CHILLI
At the last count Joe Delucci’s had served more than 25 million scoops of gelato to customers in the UK. Among the flavour favourites are fruity and nutty gelati, Parmesan (Parmesan de Reggio), melon and chilli (Melone and Peperoncino) and Pistachio (Bronte Pistachio). The company has also won a clutch of top awards for the quality and taste of its products. As for future plans, there’s plenty according to Richard. “We’re absolutely involved and hands-on in moving the business on. If you’re stationary and your competitors are moving forward, in essence you’re going backwards. We are always improving our offer, opening new sites, looking at emerging markets. It’s hugely important.” Oh, and just in case you’re wondering where the name Joe Delucci’s came from, it’s not a long lost cousin on the Italian side of the Pierce or Langstone families, or anything like that. The name is fictional. The rough translation is ‘Joe of Light’.” And if you’re still confused, it’s meant to signify showing UK consumers the ‘ice cream light’…