While his veterinarian father routinely used the colorless liquid at his Bogotá clinic, three years ago Ricardo Arbouin wondered if, and how, he could apply it to food. After experimenting with various homemade recipes with psychologist wife María José Pradilla, the couple came up with a winning gelato-style combination that could be created in front of consumers. Set to expand into other Latin American countries in 2018, co-founder Pradilla explains Misty Cream’s success.
She says: “It’s like magic. You say ‘strawberry’ and we turn that fruit into ice-cream in front of your eyes – in just one minute. It’s a totally natural product, from the creams to the fruits, plus we don’t use preservatives. Liquid nitrogen is stored in the carritos (carts) and the process happens right there. As we don’t freeze anything, the texture is unique as it is ‘fresh’ like a very soft gelato.
“Consumers choose from six flavors that rotate daily depending on the season, as nothing is frozen. It can be fruit, marshmallow or Kinder egg in a cone or cup for COL5000 ($1.76), plus toppings are free; people loved that in the early days. We also sell milkshakes made with liquid nitrogen to attract the early-morning gym crowd.”
Besides creating “magical” gelato, marketing played a key role in their runaway success. A strong social media campaign (currently 22,000 and 15,000 Facebook and Instagram followers respectively) meant word got out fast. “We were invited to pop up at a food fair so we designed a carrito for the occasion. Soon after, we set up in on a corner in Bogotá’s wealthy La Cabrera neighborhood. Private events such as birthdays and weddings followed suit and by January 2016 I’d left psychology to sell ice-cream full time and create more carts,” added Pradilla.
A cute-looking carrito also helped to draw in gelato junkies. “We use wood and natural products, a different concept to what was out there. And, while many Colombians go to shopping malls, they can’t necessarily afford to buy a leather jacket or a pair of shoes: they can, however, afford an ice-cream. Opening in a mall was key,” she said.
When it came to a first round of expansion, Bogotá Chamber of Commerce gave the start-up a helping hand. Pradilla said: “They considered Misty Cream to be a good model; by December 2016 we’d sold our first franchise to a tiny village. A year on and we have 15 franchises in Medellín, Cartagena de Indias and Cali, with more in the pipeline as well as five of our own carritos and one retail store. That said, there are places where it is difficult to deliver liquid nitrogen, which means we have to be selective.”
With such fast-growing success, Misty Cream’s sights are now set on other Latin American markets. “While we want more franchises in Colombia, we have the trademark ready for 10 countries including Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala, and we’re aiming to sign 60 more franchises in 2018. Peru is in a good economic space so that could be our first foreign deal,” said Pradilla.
As for expansion, the company is looking to develop a home delivery mobile application, where consumers would request the cart with a one-kilo minimum purchase. “We also want to move into the drinks segment with nitrogen tea and coffee,” she added.