Rita's Italian Ice

Headquarters: Travose, Pa.
Units: 625 domestic, international development underway

Rita's Chinese PosterRita's global expansion strategy has just gotten underway. The company has agreements inked in a number of countries and is investigating the feasibility in additional locations. The international team has done its homework in terms of initial development and the challenges to be faced operationally and logistically.

Rita's has one advantage over some of its chain counterparts. Italian ice doesn't come in conflict with the food taboos in international cultures that companies with protein on their menus face. "Our offerings are non-threatening to any culture," says Jonathan Fornacci, president and CEO. "They are sweet and cold. We have 67 flavors and can add any additional flavors that appeal to local palates, like unique fruits."

Rita's already has agreements to build units in China, India and the "ABC" islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Fornacci and his team are working on expansion into Israel, Dubai, Pakistan and Nigeria. "We fit in well with countries that are hot," Fornacci explains. "Our product makes you feel cool and refreshed."

Because of the simplicity of ingredients, Fornacci has made the decision to import all products from the United States, a process that most chains shun because of cost. The chain will manufacture everything in New Jersey and ship it in refrigerated containers. The company is in the process of opening a West Coast facility for more efficient shipping to countries on that side of the globe.

here can be trade issues with custard, since it's a dairy product. China, for instance, has been known to hold dairy products in customs for 20 days rather than the usual 3.

Rita's is following the tried and true practice of finding a local partner. "If they have the right relationships, they can get things done right away." Don't try to deal with local government regulations yourself, Fornacci warns, or you'll run into trouble.

Training managers for Rita's foreign units will take place in Pennsylvania. Plus, the international team will make announced — and unannounced — visits to check on processes and customer satisfaction. When opening a new unit, the team will spend a month there working with local staff to ensure successful performance. The product is easy to make, Fornacci explains, but the company supports a strong commitment to quality assurance to maintain the brand's consistency.

Rita's will also achieve brand consistency by approving all advertising and marketing in each foreign country. While the unit can adapt communication to meet local standards, the message will have the same graphic identity around the world. "We're focused on a family experience," Fornacci says. "Customers come to Rita's for a treat. It's a celebration." He's found in his research and development that international customers "love and trust American quality."

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