One highlight thus far of the Retail Confectioners International convention in Cincinnati was a walk through Graeter’s 143-year, 4-generation history by CEO Rich Graeter. By any standard, it’s a remarkable story of a family owned and run business that created a niche, lives its niche and never wavers.
Less than 3% of family owned companies make to the 4th generation. Often, 1st- and 2nd-generation family managers grow the business, and 3rd- and successive generations spend the money, having inherited a successful organization they didn’t create.
Louis Graeter started the business in 1870 by hand-cranking a sauce Anglaise (cream custard) mixture in an ice, salt and water brine on the street near downtown Cincinnati. Those who purchased had to eat it on the spot, as refrigeration didn’t yet exist. Louis then purchased his first 2-gallon French pot that is the exact method of how Graeter’s super-premium ice cream is made today. The Graeter’s ice cream product was, and is, so dense that it must be packed by hand. Hand-paddling the Peters liquid chocolate to break it into the free-form candy-bar sized chips that Graeter’s is famous for is also a requirement.
Eighty percent (80%) of purchased Graeter’s products are chocolate flavors; in Cincinnati, those flavors outsell Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs brands combined. From the first French pot freezer to the now-32 freezers producing 5,000,000 pints of ice cream, the artisan quality has never deviated.
I recently caught a blurb in the Cincinnati Business Courier about Graeter’s decision to reject an offer to distribute their product through Wal-Mart. Rich addressed the decision as “not aligning with what they wanted to be.” The success of a single product doesn’t reduce to one decision. Production, marketing and distribution decisions must be made constantly, just as remaining in balance when one walks requires constant reflexivity.
A customer sent the Graeter’s product to Oprah Winfrey, who called it “the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.” I admire a singular high-quality product without compromise. Consumers always have a choice, and when I choose to eat ice cream, perhaps 3-4x/year, Graeter’s is always my first choice. There are other very high-quality options in the marketplace; however, when one evaluates a true artisan product, there’s only one.
Can’t wait to take a tour of the Graeter’s Mt Auburn production facility tomorrow.