If there was a gadget that won the hearts of the tech press at CES 2021, it was the ColdSnap.
The countertop appliance, which makes ice cream, margaritas, cold coffee drinks, and more in less than two minutes, had many declaring it the best of show. CNN featured it, Seth Myers talked about it, and CES awarded the ColdSnap with an innovation award. It was a cold treat-making miracle!
Over a year after ColdSnap’s time in the national spotlight, I caught up with company founder and CEO Matthew Fonte to hear the story behind his appliance and to get an update on how things are tracking.
According to Fonte, the idea for the ColdSnap came from his daughter. Every night while reading to his kids before bedtime, he’d ask them to come up with an idea for a new invention. One night in 2018, his daughter suggested a machine that made single-serve ice cream at the push of a button, and Fonte told her he didn’t think such a machine existed and explained why.
“I said, Well, it’s kind of a pain,” Fonte said. “Sometimes, you have to put the bucket in the freezer for a few hours. You can only make one flavor. That consistency is never repeatable. You have to wait about 40 or 50 minutes for it to freeze. There’s always cleanup associated with the process. It’s a big ordeal.”
As he explained why someone hadn’t yet made an instant ice cream machine, Fonte realized this could be both a lesson and an opportunity.
“I said what else can we do about it? And talking with them, this idea emerged, well, could we use a pod where we put in a machine and flash one ice cream at a time?”
The next day at work, Fonte set about finding out. He asked some coworkers if they thought it would be possible to freeze six ounces of ice cream in a couple of minutes, and they were skeptical. But Fonte knew that there were machines that could freeze a quart and a half in about 40 minutes and thought if the volume of liquid was reduced, it could freeze much quicker.
Fonte put the question to a friend who does computational fluid modeling. After running the numbers, his friend told him he thought it was possible.
“Armed with that knowledge, I said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try.’ I wasn’t sure how we were going to be able to do it, but I knew it was possible.”
An engineer by training, Fonte got to work 3D printing parts in his garage and building prototypes. He soon realized one of the biggest challenges would be the pod; if he could find a container that enabled quick freezing and was also low-cost, Fonte knew he could make it work.
After trying out all sorts of vessels ranging from soup to soda cans, he eventually settled on the energy drink can.
“What we settled in on was Red Bull aluminum beverage can,” said Fonte. “It’s called a slim can and has a lot of surface area per volume, which enables us to freeze quickly.”
They’re also widely available, which meant they would be affordable, and they’re recyclable.
As Fonte worked on the system, he realized his machine was more than an ice cream-making appliance. He began testing alcohol and coffee drinks, frozen yogurt, smoothies, and more.
He also realized that because the system used a pod with a long shelf life, his product could be potentially transformative for markets where cold chain storage is not widely available or cost-prohibitive.
“China’s ice cream market is as large as the United States, but they have 25% the amount of refrigeration per capita that we do here in the States. If you could circumvent the cold supply chain and give them shelf-stable pods they can freeze their ice cream on demand, they can reach the masses there and grow that market four times.”
Over the next couple of years, Fonte continued to work on the system and started to build a team. The company raised money via a friends and family funding round and filed for patents. When the pandemic hit, a manufacturing plant in the Boston area shut down, and Fonte and his team swooped in.
“Opportunistically, we went and purchased the building,” said Fonte. “And now we have just over 40 employees. We are canning or putting the dairy in our cans, or sterilizing the cans to make them shelf stable. We’re painting the cans, we’re building machines. We do all the old food science here on site.”
Nearly four years after the initial inspiration, Fonte and his team are looking at rolling out about 100 machines to businesses around the Boston area this year and are eyeing a wider rollout in 2023. He’s also started talking with large CPG brands who could possibly license his technology to enable a new way to offer their products to their customers. And while he does see the commercial market (office spaces, restaurants) as his first market, he intends to create a product for the home.
As for his daughter who came up with the idea, I asked Fonte if she would get free ice cream for life or even stock in the new company.
“I think both,” said Fonte.
You can listen to my full conversation with Fonte by clicking play below or by listening to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.