From Guava cheesecake to Guanabanana: Family company San Bernardo Ice Cream gets a flavor facelift

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ice cream

San Bernardo Ice Cream finds sweet spot with guava, guanabanana, mango
With a thriving foodservice division and both premium and value brands, San Bernardo’s secret to success so far has been to keep all bases loaded.

Not only that, but San Bernardo Ice Cream​ president Johnathan Tammara also believes his company has found the sweet spot to satisfy the sweet tooth of today’s consumer. “When you get down to the flavors and the price-point​, and what we’re doing and how we’re trying to do it, we don’t think we have competition in that space,”​ he told FoodNavigator-USA.

What the company did was establish a retail brand that offers pints of ice cream US customers can only find either in the Caribbean or Latin America, or in ice pop form from paleterias​. Think red cactus pear, soursop, guava with cream cheese, coconut, and mango—some of the flavors offered in San Bernardo Ice Cream’s Tropical Escapes line.

“We came out [with the line] because Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the consumer population, so the flavors appeal to them,” ​Tammara said. “And Millennials as a consumer are looking for things that are different and unique.”

Named by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing companies

San Bernardo’s performance can be a testament to what analysts have called the more sophisticated palates of US consumers today​. “I don’t make a San Bernardo retail pint vanilla, or chocolate, or strawberry, or cookies and cream, so our sales are solely driven by these unique flavors,”​ Tammara said.

Though most of San Bernardo Ice Cream’s revenue comes from its foodservice endeavors, the newly relaunched retail brands helped push the company back into Inc. 5000​’s list of the fastest growing US companies in 2016.

Data from Inc. revealed that San Bernardo Ice Cream experienced a 61% revenue growth in three years, and made $10.4m for its 2015 revenue.

On freezer shelves in Safeway and Shoprite

Tammara, the company’s second generation president, shifted gears when he took over his father’s business in 2010. It had no retail presence since the 1980s up until 2013, when the brand relaunched its long defunct retail product.

Two brands were put out into the market: JT’s Ice Cream, a value brand with traditional flavors like chocolate and vanilla, and the more premium San Bernardo’s which has the Tropical Escapes and Italian Escapes line.

With a suggested retail price of $3 a pint or $5 for two, Tammara said his products are a more affordable luxury in the premium ice cream space. “We like to define it as kind of like, not necessarily the Bentley, Rolls Royce class, but one step down in the BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes,” ​he said.

“If you can get a unique flavor with super premium ingredients like mascarpone cheese and no artificial flavor and no artificial color, and you can get it for $3.50, we think that’s pretty good value for the space,” ​he added.

Between 2013 and 2015, the company’s store count went from 0 to 1,000, and can now be found along the East Coast (Big Y, Shoprite, Safeway), and at Schnucks in the Midwest, as well as many other smaller retailers and grocers.

Keeping the 'family-run' image

San Bernardo is a 45-year-old company, perhaps even older, depending on how you see it. Johnny’s father moved to Florida from Phildalphia (“because my mother didn’t like the cold”) ​with plans of bringing his Italian ice cream business with him.

He rented space in Miami; a facility ran by one of the most powerful dairies in pre-Castro Cuba called San Bernardo. The place was an institution to the Miami-Cuban community long before there was a Little Havana.

“And then the space we were renting out from ended up going bankrupt,” ​Tammara said. “And that’s how my dad ended up taking over in 1971.”

Tammara said he’s pretty proud to have made it this far, considering that 70% of family-owned businesses fail or are sold​ before the second generation gets a chance to take over, the Harvard Business Review reported.

And he wants to keep the family-feel by engaging with consumers through social media (to which he added that consumer engagement online is “absolutely” ​important to the business), and by engaging with the community.

For the past five years, Tammara has donated the use of his trucks, storage space, drivers, and pallet jacks to source and deliver food to local pantries and food banks in the Miami area.

“There are plenty of people out there who can write a larger check than us—but it’s something that makes us happy that we’re able to put that program together.”

Related topics: Manufacturers, Ice Cream

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