Two cents blog

Selling ice to the Eskimos, almost!

by Alan Kewley on 20 January 2014

It’s such a small world these days. See something you like? Check it out online. As much information as you can handle is freely available. Pretty well anything you want to buy is only a few clicks away. Delivery from anywhere around the globe in just a few days. It’s brilliant! With all this convenience and knowledge comes the feeling that, as a society, we’ve become much more globally savvy making rational, informed choices.

There was a time when accessing imported delights was a much bigger deal and far more exotic. Take ice for example.

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I recently read about a fellow by the name of Frederic Tudor who was an American businessman from Boston, Massachusetts in the 1800s. He saw the potential to sell ice around the world. It simply didn’t exist in places with warm climates so he knew it was a miracle product many had never seen. It could be used for preserving food, cooling beverages and of course to soothe the sick who were suffering fevers. Tudor created a new method of sawing ice that allowed him to cut thousands of tonnes of ice slabs from various frozen ponds and lakes in the New England area during their freezing Winters and have them shipped around the US and beyond. He introduced ice to many parts of the world and sold it as an expensive luxury item. Remember this is in the days before refrigeration so it was a big deal. Especially given that he was shipping to generally very hot destinations like the Caribbean, India and Brazil. He founded the Tudor Ice Company and soon became known as Boston’s Ice King.

One of his sources of ice was Wenham Lake which became world famous for delivering pure ice of great clarity. Evidently the London aristocracy considered that ‘no banquet of any magnitude is considered complete without it’. The English couldn’t get enough of Wenham Lake Ice and paid handsomely for it. Apparently even Queen Victoria insisted upon a few cubes of Wenham Lake Ice in her tipple of choice.

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Surely Tudor was a pioneer of promoting a unique product benefit, real or implied. I can totally understand the logic of importing ice into hot climates but jolly old England has its fair share of cold weather… and ice. Still, the clarity of his ice and some good marketing convinced the Brits to question why they should use any old slushy English pond ice when they could enjoy imported Boston Ice? Apparently Tudor promoted his product as being ‘ice suited for table use, for mixing with liquids, or placing in direct contact with provisions, jellies, etc.’

It could take up to four months to deliver by ship but once he’d invented ways to keep his cargo frozen Tudor never looked back. What a terrific exercise in combining new technology with branding to create a must-have item from the other side of the globe. Talk about food miles!

That was in the mid to late 1800s and it all sounds very quaint doesn’t it? It was certainly a simpler time and there’s a lovely naivety to it all. Surely in street-wise 2014 we wouldn’t still embrace the romantic notion of a pure, imported product that is freely available anywhere and happily pay a premium for the privilege of consuming it?

I’ll ponder that question while sipping my natural spring water that’s been drip fed and filtered over 15 years through the glacial sands of the French Alps just as nature intended and lovingly bottled at its source. It just has to be better than the local filtered stuff, doesn’t it?

Maybe we haven’t changed that much as consumers after all.

Alan Kewley is a Group Account Director at BCM

- Paul Cornwell on January 22

Cool post Al (get it?). Anyway, I agree with your point. Have a great idea then devise an ingenious way to make it work. Mr Tudor understood that. Just like Google. Great idea but also exceptionally well executed. Many terrific ideas are let down by poor execution.

- Kate on January 21

Brilliant post Al. Very entertaining. Mr Tudor sounds like he was a certainly a clever marketer, ahead of his time. Kate

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