A common sight in Italy is that of locals, dressed in smart suits and killer heels, stood on the streets in the afternoon or evening eating gelato. These clever Italians can slurp away at their cones, without spilling a drop, whilst maintaining an elegant and sophisticated composure. A trick that I, so far, have failed to master during my time in this country.
Italy’s love affair with gelato continues to increase despite the recent years of belt tightening. The land of La Dolce Vita boasts nearly 40,000 gelaterias and per head consumption of gelato has grown by 28% since 1996 to a cool 4.5 kilos in 2013.
So it perhaps comes as no surprise to hear that gelato is behind one of Italy’s recent business success stories. Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti opened their first Grom gelateria in 2003 and the company has now grown to over 50 stores in Italy, including seven in Milan, as well as stores in France, Japan plus America. With planned openings in Dubai and Indonesia, the company is thriving, despite difficult economic conditions.
I spoke to Federico and Guido to find out more about Italy’s obsession with gelato and how best to enjoy the sweet stuff...
Why is gelato so important to Italians?
Gelato is present in many moments of our lives. As children, if we behaved well, our mother rewarded us with a cone or our perhaps grandmother secretly passed us money for a treat. Therefore we have a very emotional bond with this food.
But why the recent increase in sales in Italy, despite the economic crisis?
Gelaterias have undergone a big transformation in the last ten years, and we like to think that we have contributed to this change. Gelato is no longer considered as an impulse consumer product or an occasional naughty treat, but as an actual food. So the customer pays more attention to previously overlooked aspects, like the ingredients and their sources.
What useful lesson have you learned since starting the business?
When we started Grom we were very young and knew nothing about gelato, so we made many mistakes. All these mistakes were learning opportunities. Perhaps our most important lesson was the attitude with which we must approach each challenge. Passion, curiosity and determination are essential. Without these, you cannot continue learning or growing.
Federico Grom and Guido Martinetti © Grom
What are the most popular flavours at Grom?
La Crema di Grom, our signature flavour, is popular with our customers. It is an egg custard with chocolate chips and meliga biscuits from the Piedmont region. This flavour combines a traditional Italian ingredient (meliga means ‘maize’ in Piedmont dialect) with the finest Colombian chocolate.
Obviously you would recommend Grom stores first, but if our readers find themselves in other stores can you give any advice for spotting a good/bad gelateria?
Everyone has different preferences, just like with wine, but there are some important things to look out for. Presentation is an important clue. Be suspicious of those voluptuous stacks of gelato that rise tens of centimeters over the edge of the pan. Ask yourself: ‘what ingredients are keeping that gelato together in such an unnatural way?’ Another important aspect is the colour. Beware of pistachio that is mint green, or gelato that appears bright blue, as these are almost certainly dyed.
Do you think that EXPO is a good opportunity for Italy? In what way?
To restart this country we need to return to traditions and have the courage to innovate and redefine ourselves. Food, along with design and fashion, are our traditional strengths and form the platform from which this relaunch to the world must take place.
For GROM stores in Italy and worldwide see: www.grom.it