San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ice-Cream Chain Enjoys Flavor of Success

WHAT’S 38 years old, four countrieswide, and comes in more than 30 flavors?For any Costa Rican, it’s a no-brainer:POPS, the premium ice cream companythat, since its founding in 1968, has founda way to become a multinational successwith an increasingly diversified productline while maintaining its roots as a CostaRican institution.According to president Carlos Abreu,American Ice Cream S.A., the companythat runs POPS, has also managed to maintainan unmatched level of quality whileexpanding to a total of 110 locations inCosta Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala,Honduras and Nicaragua.“POPS was created with the idea ofoffering a premium-quality ice cream toCosta Ricans,” Abreu told The Tico Timesin a recent interview at the company’sheadquarters west of San José. “Today,many companies have adopted the word‘premium’ because it sounds good, but itdoesn’t have the quality.”The company spent its first 35 yearsfocusing on ice-cream parlors alone, Abreusaid. However, in the past three years, it hasdiversified its offerings: it now sells its icecream in supermarkets and is the distributorfor the U.S.-based company GeneralMills (including brands such as BettyCrocker, Nature Valley and Pillsbury).It is also the franchisee for ice-creamcompany Häagen-Dazs. While thisalliance may seem an unlikely one, giventhat the two company’s products are competitors,Abreu said, “It’s clear that POPSis one thing and Häagen-Dazs is another.”APPROXIMATELY one year ago,the company opened the sandwich shopsEntrepans – sometimes connected to aPOPS ice-cream parlor, but usually separate– which offer pressed and pita sandwiches,among other lunchtime options.Despite these forays into other areas,the company plans to concentrate onstrengthening its hold on its existingCentral American markets, Abreu said.“This is a group that has been completelyconcentrated on foods,” he said.“That’s our core business. That’s what weknow how to do… and we believe thereis still room within (our current markets)for expansion.”HE added he is confident about thecompany’s potential to succeed in theincreasingly competitive market that theCentral American Free-Trade Agreementwith the United States (CAFTA) could create,if it is passed.“We did an analysis (of its possibleeffects), and we don’t feel vulnerable or atrisk,” he said. “We have created a name forourselves. No one could take this marketaway from us easily.”Exports to the United States might bean option in the distant future, he said.“Ice cream was left out of CAFTA, but´ the agreement would give us the possibilityto grow in the United States with greateragility,” he said.The Central American Customs Unionunder consideration “would facilitateeverything a great deal,” he added, sincethe company’s Costa Rican plant exportsproducts to Nicaragua and Honduras,while its smaller Guatemalan plant suppliesproducts to El Salvador.THOUGH POPS is 100% Costa Ricanowned and was founded by Costa Ricanentrepreneurs, the concepts that inspired itsice-cream parlors, as well as its Entrepanssandwich shops, came from abroad.Entrepans is based on a Spanish model,according to Abreu, while an advisor fromthe United States laid the foundations forPOPS ice cream. The entrepreneurs whofounded the company hired a U.S. businessexecutive for a year to advise them.Before that, there was no such thing as a“premium” Costa Rican ice cream, he said –a category that means the product is high insolids, low in air, for a creamier texture thanmost “commercial” ice creams.THE first POPS parlor, still open today,is near La Sabana Park in western San José.There are now 44 shops throughout CostaRica. The parlor with the best location,according to Abreu, is on Ave. Central in theGran Hotel Costa Rica building, which lastweek was declared an historical and architecturalheritage site (see separate story).The two-level shop, facing the Culture Plazaand near the National Theater, is ideally suitedfor attracting tourists, he said. A three-year-old renovation effort for all POPS parlorsincluded see-through cabinets and amore modern look.POPS began expanding to other CentralAmerican countries after only two years ofoperation – first to El Salvador, then toGuatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras.“If it wasn’t the first regional CentralAmerican company, it was among the first,”Abreu said, mentioning Guatemala’s PolloCampero, along with the airline GrupoTACA and Banco Cuscatlán, both based inEl Salvador, as among the only other high profile,Central America-wide businesses.The company’s name, which has no specialsignificance, was chosen, along with itsfour colors (green, red, blue and orange), tosignify happiness, he added.Through the years, POPS has straddledthe breach between innovation and tradition,offering newly popular flavors such as cappuccino,pistachio and chocolate-almond,while continuing to sell products such as theChurchill, a traditional drink from the centralPacific port city of Puntarenas.“One needs to pause in life – ‘give yourselftime, give yourself pleasure,’” he said,quoting POPS’ motto. “The quality of POPShasn’t changed over the years. We are verydemanding in the selection of our ingredients.That’s why people are faithful to ourproducts.”

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