A windfall contract to supply national pizza chain Hell's Pizza has doubled the size of Wellington gelato icecream maker Carrello del Gelato overnight.
Nathan Meyer has been producing the Italian icecream since 2005 after being introduced to gelato and its dairy-free equivalent, sorbet, two years earlier during a buying trip to Italy for a Mediterranean food supplier.
Until now he has been supplying a range of cafes, restaurants and retailers.
But an approach to Hell's Pizza in July last year, just as the chain was reviewing its dessert options, led to an initial trial in three Wellington stores followed by a nationwide supply contract.
The first order of 10,000 single serve tubs, each filled by hand using piping bags and packed onto pallets, left the Newtown factory last week in time to be included on the menu in the next few weeks.
"This is when we have taken the real leap to the next stage," Meyer said.
A larger new gelato machine has been imported from Italy to step up production and the company has been named as a finalist in this year's Wellington Gold Awards for business.
Meyer has been in the food and hospitality industry since he was 21, including setting up Cafe Globe in Cuba St in the early 1990s and as a partner in former fine dining restaurant Petit Lyon.
From the moment he tasted gelato in Italy the trained chef knew it was something that had to be brought back to New Zealand.
Gelato contains less fat and sugar than icecream, and because it is churned at a much lower speed during production it contains less air than icecream, giving it a denser, smoother texture.
After extensive research and a gelato making course in Australia 2003, Meyer initially found that the New Zealand market was not ready to accept gelato as a mainstream alternative to icecream, although it had been available in some cafes and restaurants.
"Now it is kind of like an espresso coffee back in 1990. It has taken a while for it to kick in, but now people tend to know what it is."
The following year he bought a gelato cabinet from a cafe "not knowing 100 per cent exactly what I was going to do with it".
The cabinet was eventually turned into a gelato cart and Carrello del Gelato, Italian for cart of gelato, made its first appearance at Wellington's Italian Festival.
Numerous events and fairs followed, including the Martinborough Wine and Food Festival.
Word soon spread and restaurants, online farmers market Urban Harvest and New World supermarkets in the Wellington region began buying in bulk.
"We try to pick the best ingredients from around the world, and local where possible," Meyer said.
Plans to export to Australia and Asia have been supported with grants and mentoring from Grow Wellington and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
While Australia seemed like a logical first export step it was "a mature market and also they are pretty ruthless, especially on New Zealand products", Meyer said.
Tailoring specific flavours for the Asian market, adding to the green tea and black sesame gelatos already produced by the company, could be a better bet.
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