The king of cool
It started out as one gelateria in Bristol, but Swoon has grown its number of outlets and its range of award-winning gelatos steadily over the last five years. Now the company looks set to make its retail debut on the back of its hazelnut gelato claiming the Supreme Champion title this year, as FFD finds out.
Bruno Forte is a hard man to get hold of. But given the recent success of Swoon – the gelato business he co-founded just a few years ago with his family – it’s little wonder that his line has been so busy and his inbox so full.
The company is no stranger to winning things but on 1st September, at the Golden Fork Awards dinner, its hazelnut gelato (aka nocciola) was named Great Taste Supreme Champion and now everyone wants a spoonful. Famous London department stores, farm shops, and top delis have all been on the phone.
“We’ve not got a retail product yet but our shops have been very busy,” says Forte, who runs the business with his sister Patricia Powell, as well as numerous other family members (just check out the posse in the photo to the right that arrived on stage to collect the big trophy!). But Forte insists that all of these enquiries won’t be in vain, with retail formats of the gelato in development for launch next year.
For now, Swoon has had to contend with hordes of journalists and countless punters queuing up at its parlours in Bath and Bristol and a recently opened outlet in Oxford. Those first two parlours have seen 20% year-on-year increases in September.
Once the crowds have abated a little it will give Swoon some breathing space to finish work on getting a retail range together.
“We’re trying to get something out for after Christmas and then the next selling season,” says Forte, adding that he hopes to be able to offer gelato in 120-125ml single-serve to a range of customers and 450-500ml larger tubs for independent retailers.
There will be six flavours in the range. The Supreme Champion nocciola – made with hazelnuts from a single family grower in Piedmont – is the first on the list. It will be joined by pistachio and two vegan varieties: chocolate and raspberry sorbettos. The final two spots are still up for grabs.
While packaging and flavours are important elements, there is also a more technical challenge for Forte and his team to overcome before Swoon’s gelato can make it into shops.
In its parlours, the gelato is served at -12°C but it will need to be stored at -18°C in retail cabinets. This means that the sugar structures need adjusting in each of the six recipes to be able to cope with the lower temperature. Forte insists that there will be no difference in taste.
There is also the issue of distribution to solve. It does have some freezer vehicles but Swoon currently makes all of its mixes in a central kitchen before they are sent by refrigerated van to its parlours to be churned into the final product there. It’s a system that maintains consistency across its own outlets but it’s obviously not going to work for retail.
However Swoon prepares its gelato to travel further, delis and farm shops seem likely to be the first to get their hands on the product.
“It’s much more important to focus on where you’re supplying it, than volumes. So, it needs to be in good independents to start with,” says Forte, adding that this route to market will ensure that Swoon keeps control of its brand.
Retail will be a new thing for Forte, whose own background is in catering, but he points out that he’s been on a learning curve since he started training in 2014 at the Gelato University in Bologna – run by specialist equipment manufacturer Carpigiani.
Inspired by the gelato made by his grandfather, who moved from Italy to England after World War II, Forte has grown the business – together with his sister Patricia Powell – into a serial Great Taste winner in a very short space of time.
It opened its first outlet in Bristol in 2016, followed by one in Bath the year after and it opened a third in Oxford this August. A second in Bath that is currently a pop-up might well become permanent and Forte tells FFD he would be happy to see other Swoon-branded gelato counters in other stores or cafés too.
It’s a near certainty that this time next year, more people than ever before will be getting a spoonful of Swoon.
This story appeared in the October-November issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.
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