Sikou has a long history that has had its setbacks and successes. In a way the life of a business is rarely very different from that of men.
The story begins in 2009. At this time Sikou is still a small organic restaurant with an array of homemade ice cream crafted by artisan Bruno Lai. In 2011 the small restaurant went bankrupt. Bruno was forced to sell his home to pay off his debts. Nevertheless he didn't give up, he rolled up his sleeves and sought to start up again with his ice cream workshop.
A small group of private investors met and were attracted by the quality but above all by the philosophy that underlies it all. In 2012 the workshop as well as the store-name “Sikou” was bought from the curatorship. The investors associated Bruno and revived the workshop as 500ml container distribution exclusively. The recovery plan consisted of eight pages back then. At the time I wrote these lines, these same eight pages still govern the relationship between the partners and have not changed by even a comma.
The workshop quickly moved from Anderlecht to Etterbeek and the new distribution began in February 2013 in the containers we know. Our containers look different than what is usually found on the shelves. No aggressive marketing just informative communication and a frank and direct tone. The brand Sikou says what it does but above all what it does not do. Other than that, the consumer is the sole judge without being influenced by commercial sales pitches or superlatives.
The next challenge is to make a quality artisan ice cream accessible to the greatest number in a deemed disappointing market. It’s needless to say that the organic certification was in the DNA of the project and was seen as evidence and a logical consequence of the process.
The recipes have remained unchanged. On the other hand, it was a real challenge to retain Bruno’s work and method in the production: raw milk and cream, non-negotiated prices with farmers, flavours made in the kitchen of the workshop, high-quality raw materials and unprocessed or minimally-processed outside our workshops. The aim was to make ice cream and sorbets according to the rules of the trade in the true sense of the term.
The success was immediate and one year later Sikou is represented in all the organic specialty stores in Brussels and in the south of the country as well as at the famous 'Rob, the gourmets market.'
In March 2014 the machines were exhausted, as was Bruno. The partners decided to replace the manual filling by a semi-automatic filling system.
The containers are no longer filled with a spoon but by a filling system while the containers is held by hand. The distribution also changed: direct distribution to the retailers with our refrigerated truck was replaced by an indirect distribution through carriers specialised in logistics.
Then came the second biggest business transformation, the first was to move from a direct sale of ice cream to sales at the parlour in preconditioned 500ml containers. But in order to finance this change money is needed... And again we took our pilgrim's staff. Brustart, the Brussels Regional Investment Company and the excellent financial analyst Sarah Hunger were at this time of a capital support. No pun intended. And against all odds the ING bank provided us with an unsecured loan. The financial losses of the first year were considerable and still today we are amazed by the confidence this bank granted us, two former bankrupts…
Funds were then raised and the second round of investments was made. Sikou was then able to produce up to 5 times the volume for a lower cost of labour. The same year we were quadrupling our points of sale and we exported our product to France. A product of which the quality did not changed and with a perfectly identical philosophy to the one that prevailed our framework agreement of 8 pages 2 and a half years earlier.
Of course the company will meet many more pitfalls, but today we have achieved an idea that has transformed into certainty: the food industry is in crisis and we consumers are aware of it. Quality products have a future with regards to food produced by the agro-food industry and the practices of hidden or suspicious ingredients.
We hope consumers will give up on low-quality food and a food budget reduced to the bare minimum. Because all products in store should not be seen with the same credulity and without distinguishing. If we were to define the brand Sikou we would say that it is about ice cream and sorbets made according to the rules of the trade. As laughter is the best medicine we could state that this ice cream is made of nutrients. The pathetic fact is that our differentiating criterion is to make ice cream according to the rules of the trade and without food chemistry. All we can say for certain is that the products distributed by our competitors positioned on the lower price segments are frozen things with a sweet taste… Upon my word of honour, it most certainly isn’t ice cream!