Located in a thriving industrial zone close to the Italian city of Palermo, Zerica has been in business for over 75 years. cooler innovation Deputy Editor Medina Bailey soaked up some Sicilian sun to find out more about the family water cooler firm.
The heat of the late morning sun turns the temperature gauge up a notch. As we leave the bustle of Palermo airport to drive to Zerica’s headquarters in Termini Imerese, the sparkling Tyrrhenian sea looks cool and inviting as it tempts the locals, holidaying north Italians and tourists who have flocked to the soft, golden sands to take a reviving dip. The mountains on the horizon dotted with
fragrant pine trees and choral cicadas stand tall and proud, giving the landscape a jagged, dramatic outline.
My host tells me that Palermo is a tourist’s gem laced with churches, cathedrals and mosques that are as rich in historical significance as they are in lavish decoration, as well as eclectic architecture that hints at the influential centuries of rule under the Arabs, Normans and Spaniards, to name but a few.
There’s so much to try – from the deliciously fresh seafood, to refreshing lemon sorbet and bright green pistachio cake, not to mention the delightfully intense limoncello liqueur that goes to the head quicker than the midday sun.
But trips to the beach, the mountains and Palermo’s vibrant old town are reserved for another day. We pull up to Zerica’s base, which is situated away from the distractions of the city in an industrial district, alongside other companies such as Fiat. Established back in 1931 when Marco Zerilli started manufacturing water cooling units, the bottled and POU cooler firm has remained in the family ever since. Three generations on and Marco’s grandchildren, Marco and Antonio, are at the helm with the aim of continuing the Zerilli family’s entrepreneurial and manufacturing traditions.
I am barely through the front door when I’m greeted by a reception committee assembled from Zerica’s sales and marketing team, who are on hand to provide an immensely warm and hospitable welcome. After a brief history of the area, it becomes clear that the company has firmly connected roots in Palermo and is fiercely proud of its heritage and way that it has naturally evolved over the years.
“Our main philosophy is to produce products that really stand out in terms of quality, trustworthiness and performance,” explained Research and Development Area Director Marco. “To be able to do this, you need solid foundations, which we feel we have built up stone by stone. For us, our achievement comes in the individual steps that we take to produce results, because without taking these steps, we wouldn’t have been able to stay in the market for so long.”
Many significant steps have been taken over the years, including in 1980 the name change from Zerilli to Zerica, which combines Marco and Antonio’s parents’ names and signifies the importance of the family working together. Antonio later revealed that the people of Palermo still refer to the company and its products as Zerilli, which is testimony to its long term prominence in the area.
Change was also afoot 18 months ago when the firm decided to start producing coolers under the Zerica brand name, instead of solely manufacturing models for other companies. “This is enabling us to expand as we have a two pronged approach,” said Commercial and Marketing Area Director Antonio. “We still
manufacture products for our customers as we used to, but now we also manufacture new units that carry our brand name, which we export to 27 countries all over the world.”
Altering the commercial side of the business to promote the Zerica name and image provokes passion within the team, as does the revelation that every cooler component, apart from the faucets, compressors and condensers, are produced in house by 30 employees in the 10,000 m² factory area. “This means that we can
carry out testing on new products for up to a year before market launch, which guarantees their quality, and can also track every cooler back to the exact individual who assembled it,” continued Antonio.
This traceability that covers all of the potential 22,000 units produced every year aims to reassure customers about the quality of the final product that they receive, but for Zerica this element of trust has to work both ways. Before signing on the dotted line, the company has to be certain that its distributors are experienced within the cooler industry and not just out to make a quick buck.
“Each unit is a business card,” explained Antonio, “so our distributors have to know what they are doing, otherwise Zerica’s image and brand name could be at stake.”
Exporting the brand to countries further afield is no easy undertaking, but the company’s flagship technology, which renders Zerica coolers ideal for hotter climates, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Ivory Coast, Gabon and Kenya, has helped. Its High Performance Direct Chill (HPDC) system with a 1/5 plus HP
compressor offers a three minute waiting time for chilled water when the cooler is first switched on. The cooling efficiency mechanism is installed in Zerica branded coolers, while the traditional Direct Chill System, which was first developed in 1980, is sold to other manufacturers.
The technology is an example of how the company works to make improvements to existing products, as well as design new components from scratch. Whether it be to bring costs down, make energy savings, slim down machines into more compact versions or make filter replenishment as easy as printer cartridge replacement,
changes are implemented to increase functionality and ensure that products will stand the test of time.
According to Marco, when you consider that some Zerica units have been performing for over 25 years, the extra costs that might be incurred are a small price to pay in return for quality. “When you look at how the products have been made and what they offer, our prices are not that high. For example, if you take our units for the pub and bar industry – it’s like when you get married – these coolers will last forever.” He claims that not using third party companies and producing components in house, down to the external metal casing being manufactured with a 400 tonne hydraulic press, contributes to keeping costs lower anyway.
Although in the past customers have wanted to part with as little cash as possible, the Zerica team believes that clients are now, first and foremost, demanding quality. “These are our ideal customers – the ones who have requirements,” continued Marco. “This is why we are not planning to expand our 22,000 a year output quantity, but will instead focus on quality.”
Providing solutions to requests from countries with hot climates or individual companies that require customisation has led to the belief that no sectors or geographical locations should be out of Zerica’s reach. “Next, we’ll be looking to tap into areas as diverse as the US, India, Africa and Russia. After all, everyone drinks water,” said Antonio.
This desire to achieve steady growth, as opposed to riding the peaks and troughs, still enables the company to move with the times. It is confident that POU will become the system of choice on Italian shores, but believes that it is likely to take time for the genre to become established as bottled water is inexpensive and
seems to be retaining its popularity, despite government attempts to push tap water.
“It is only a question of time,” said Marco. “POU is the better solution due to its reliability and environmental friendliness, but it will take a while for the mains connected culture to become the norm. We are pushing for change in this area – like a child, it’s going to grow.”
As the visit comes to an end and the late afternoon sun still blazes hot outside, Zerica has left an overall impression of a relaxed, but dedicated company, with a unique sense of company culture and family oriented ethos. The tight knit team talks about the long term as though it is ready to embrace the future and constantly work to improve itself as well as its product range.
“In Italy,” said Antonio, “we say that you give your family name to two things – your child when it is born and the things that you love.” In Zerica’s case, this saying couldn’t ring more true.
**Zerica’s sense of team spirit extends beyond the working week. It not only supports a local Sicilian football side, but also sponsors Team Amadeus X One’s Milanese motor cycle rider, Paolo Tessari, who sports the cooler company’s green logo on his bike and livery.
* Refresh P – This top seller with HPDC comes complete with a 30 year anti-corrosion guarantee for its copper piping, has a cold water supply of 60 litres per hour and can operate at temperatures of up to 43°C.
For the home
* Premium Top – A strong performer since its unveiling at Avex and The Cooler Show earlier this year, this counter top unit is only 24cm wide, making it small enough for the most compact of kitchens. It dispenses chilled, ambient and sparkling water with a cold and carbonated capacity of up to 18 litres per hour. A multi-functional digital control panel gives the option to fill a glass or jug, adjusts the temperature and provides filter information, while an easy access front panel facilitates easy CO2 gas cylinder and filter replacement, with no technical assistance required.
For the bar and pub
* G Plus 20 – This 30 litres per hour best seller for sparkling water has an accumulator tank and an ice chamber in stainless steel with extractable refrigeration coil and carbonator for easy maintenance and hygiene. Suitable for installing over or under counter, the machine can be placed away from the mains supply point as the water is re-circulated internally. It offers two separate access points for qualified technicians and non-specialists so that the unit can be opened in under a minute, if necessary.
For the office
* Premium – With a cold water capacity of 60 litres per hour, this free standing model has a slim, ergonomic design and small footprint. The HPDC system ensures that chilled water will be available to users only five minutes after the unit has been switched on. It has specific indicator fault lights to signify if there are any problems with mechanisms, such as the power supply and refrigeration circuit, as well as a dual monitoring and anti-leakage protection system.
* Refresh B / Refresh Baby – This hygienic cooler is available in a standard and compact version. It has a highly polished stainless steel refrigeration chamber to minimise calcium deposits and provide maximum heat exchange efficiency and durability. Operating at external temperatures of up to 43°C, it can be used for various liquids, such as fruit juice and wine, and is available in different colour or customised promotion options. Its piping is curve and siphon-free to prevent water stagnation or bacterial build-up.
Cooler features and benefits
* Only certified food contact materials are used for all components that come into contact with liquid.
* This eliminates the possibility of contamination and allows for straightforward cleaning and maintenance. 2 to 5 years warranty
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