Ice cream start-up Gemelli on surviving COVID-19: ‘Gemelli was born from resilience’

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Gemelli's 'healthier' ice cream /Pic: Gemelli
Gemelli's 'healthier' ice cream /Pic: Gemelli

Related tags Ice cream COVID-19 coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has hurt many food and beverage SMEs, reliant on out-of-home channels, particularly hard. We spoke to the founders of French ice cream start-up Gemelli to hear how this company has responded.

Gemelli was founded in 2018 by French twin brothers Nicolas and Guillaume Bouvier.

“Gemelli was born from resilience,”​ they reflected. It was founded after a ‘serious accident’ caused the loss of an eye and prompted the duo to follow a ‘long-standing dream’ to go to Italy and learn Italian.

Inspired by a four-month stay in Rome, the Bouviers decided to continue their ‘Italian adventure’ upon returning to France by establishing a gelato company.

“The quality of the product constitutes the basis of our company,”​ the brothers told FoodNavigator.

‘A real revolution’ in ice cream

Gemelli produces ice cream that is nutritionally distinct from most other products on the market. Not only is it ‘natural’, the brothers have formulated recipes that are low in fat and sugar, using semi-skimmed milk instead of cream. The gelato does not contain added air, it is gluten-free, egg-free and the company offers a range that is also sugar-free.

This is the ‘perfect’ intersection between ‘naturalness, gluttony and health’, Bouvier explained. “In the world of ice cream this represents a real revolution in terms of vision and the way of looking at the product. We are even in the process of working on a wellbeing range, which will promote cell regeneration.”

Other aspects of the Bouviers’ approach resonates with French consumers.

Gemelli had to find new routes to the consumer

“We differentiate ourselves by creating a modern and authentic brand, whose history and values… bring a fundamentally new identity to the ice cream sector. No more dusty stereotypes of homemade ice cream with the cow and the grandmother on the visuals... It is about expressing a true poetic, artistic identity in each creation.”

The brand is built on ‘deep sincerity and poetry’ both in terms of product and vision, the Bouviers claimed.

It also has an appeal to environmentally conscious French consumers, thanks to its focus on local products and fully recyclable packaging.

Indeed, this positioning saw Gemilli quickly expand its presence, gaining listings at more than 150 points of sale around France.

Coping with COVID: 'Orders stopped dead'

When French President Emmanuel Macron announced strict confinement measures on 17 March to contain spread of the virus, the move put a serious dent in the small company’s growth trajectory.

“COVID has plunged Gemelli's B2B activity to zero turnover. Since most of our activity is focused on restaurateurs and other grocery stores and bakeries, orders stopped dead,”​ the founders told us.

“Our company has suffered the full brunt of this crisis, both psychologically and financially.”

How did the start-up fight back?

First of all, the brothers were quick to make use of the support systems put in place by the French government to stop businesses collapsing. Rent, monthly payments and salaries were frozen.

But the bigger challenge was how to reach consumers when the out-of-home channel on which Gemelli was reliant suddenly and completely shut down.

The answer to this was, the Bouviers determined, was the creation of a direct-to-consumer online sales site, as well as the creation of Gemelli’s own physical store.

Added to the ‘technical skills’ required to establish a D2C business, the Bouviers quickly learned that they had another hurdle to overcome. In the ice cream business, Gemelli found that it is a big step for consumers to be confident in receiving an ice cream delivered to their doorsteps.

“Indeed, for many it remains… unthinkable to receive an ice cream at home. We must therefore continually work on this aspect to make the act of purchasing natural, reassuring, even normal.”

Despite the impact COVID has had on the company, the brand remains ‘deeply optimistic’ about the future. “In our opinion, each crisis, a difficult event, is a way to surpass oneself, to transform oneself in order to accomplish even greater things.”

Looking to the future, Gemelli has plans to continue to develop the product, through the creation of new ranges that are ‘even more healthy and nutritious’. The brothers are also already eyeing international development. Beyond business growth, they hope to use their business as a force for good by having a ‘positive impact’ on society and the environment.

And the brothers believe Gemelli’s outlook will only resonate more with consumers in the post-COVID world. “The COVID crisis has accelerated a change in mentality in terms of our daily consumption - less but better. Of course, this will still take time. But this kind of historical crisis cannot remain without consequences for the consumer and for the companies which must, in our opinion, take on a social, societal, or even more accentuated political role.”

Fundamentally, the Bouviers believe COVID-19 will change the face of business in the food sector.

“In our opinion, a company is no longer a mechanical entity whose function is the production of a product A for a public B with the sole goal of profit. Rather [it has become] an organic whole, in pursuit of ideals, dreams of creation for the common good with creativity, daring and adaptability as means.

“A reversal is taking place.”

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