Phone : +32 2 734 58 26
Email : email@example.com
Controlled by Certisys BE-BIO-01
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!
Our interest is to obtain a finished product with a “high nutritional quality” containing the natural essential nutrients of the original raw material, such as lactic acids, mineral salts or vitamines.
The interest becomes even more important since milk and cream alone are 75% of the finished product.
We obtain this “high nutritional quality” by working from unprocessed raw materials, products with so-called “integrity”, i.e. less or non-processed by the agro-industry and by using conscious manufacturing processes.
We do not use milk powder, cocoa or egg powder but we work with farm-fresh milk and cream and moreover directly purchased from a farm and not from a dairy factory.
Consequently, the products are not treated in a dairy factory for long-term storage as they are to be frozen (no UHT treatment, no homogenisation of milk by micronising, no standardisation of the milk or cream).
The nutritional value of freeze-dried (lyophilised) raw materials or processed milk by the dairy industry is indeed questionable.
In order to get long-life milk, which is known as brick milk, dairy industries apply treatments such as UHT, well known for giving milk a longer shelf life. Another treatment is the homogenisation by micronisation. This process disrupts the curdling and separation of milk into layers (cream, whey, water, fat etc). Consequently, we don’t have to shake our milk carton before opening it. The third treatment is a standardisation process where milk contains the same amount of fat (3,5% milk fat for whole milk, half for semi-skimmed, etc).
If these treatments allow distribution of milk and cream into distribution networks and meet the edicts of the market regarding standardisation it is not without consequences for the essential nutrients originally present in the milk. These treatments are harmful and are no longer justified in the production of ice cream as durability and separation issues are averted by freezing. As to the alleged consumer wish for standard products, we don’t really believe it. If the consumers accept a seasonal effect on fruit and vegetables at the end and beginning of the season, why would they not understand it regarding cow milk?
At Sikou the only treatment applied to raw farm milk and raw farm cream is a mild pasteurisation, softer and more suitable for the specific character of our products.
« Due to the absence of UHT treatment and micronisation the products are better tolerated by our bodies. Micronisation of dairy products for example, can cause intestinal cramping for some individuals. Just as we make every effort to preserve the structure of foods we definitely to get involved in food chemistry. This is just ice cream with a few ingredients, the most simple and readable ones and in accordance to what nature provides.»
Of course the use of farm-fresh milk and cream is more complex to manage than the use of powders and this complexity has an impact on the price of our products. However, the result is a more transparent finished product, more digestible and of a 'high nutritional quality.' And this is the trademark of Sikou products.
This is our commitment and the choice offered to our customers, to consider their food, i.e. their fuel, not from the point of view of the price but rather from the ratio between price and counterpart: nutritional quality and health risk related to the opacity of the components and their origin.
We use semi-refined cane sugar, fresh eggs and whole vanilla beans; there is no addition of flavours (even if natural) and we make the caramel in our workshop, all this proves that we share the same desire to maintain the structure, transparency and 'high nutritional value' of our raw materials.
A substitute is a by-product of poor quality and generally of lower cost. At Sikou we do not make compromises on the price of raw materials. Consequently, we do not replace one ingredient by another of lesser quality in favour of cost-reduction. This justifies the price of our ice cream and our sorbets.
Always in line with our philosophy to deliver end products of “high nutritional quality” our recipes are made with just a few ingredients, simple and well known.
The use of by-products, additives, essences (even if natural) or processes such as artificial addition of air, are prohibited. Again, this is our trademark and we wish to make it clear that consumers who choose the Sikou products have the following as a guarantee: a brand that works with the above philosophy, that does not think in terms price but rather in terms of nutritional quality. A brand without food chemistry. A brand that uses simple recipes and unprocessed or minimally processed raw materials.
Like the brine in hams, it is not uncommon to see the addition of air, lots of air, in ice and industrial sorbets.
The change of state from liquid to solid in the process of making ice cream or sorbets implies a natural increase of the final volume. It has a volume swell of roughly 10% for ice cream and 15% for sorbet. This is what we call the natural abundance.
The manufacturing processes for ice cream and sorbets now allow to add air into the preparation. By adding air, premium ice cream manufacturers could be in search of a particular texture. After a certain level, it becomes something else ...
You can notice this addition of artificial air in the ice cream you buy just by looking at the weight/volume ratio, e.g. 500ml/430g.
If the weight or volume is not mentioned, it must be an omission...
Sikou ice cream and sorbets contain between 0 and 5% of added air. In the past our contains of ice cream were filled by hand, but given the higher demand this was no longer feasible. The new equipment that allows us to fill semi-automatically the containers also has its limits: when the density of the ice is too high, we are obliged to add up to 5% air.
Sikou originally was an ice cream parlour. The artisan Bruno Lai helped to transform and revive the business in February 2013, which started distributing 500 ml tubs.
Although the recipes are still the same, producing the ice cream with artisanal methods was a tremendous feat—with non-standardised raw milk and cream, prices that are not negotiated with farmers, flavours cooked in our workshop, raw materials that are almost never processed outside of our workshops, without food powder or flavouring ...
And everything is 100% organic ...
So is Sikou still an artisanal product, as it is distributed to local grocery stores, for as many people as possible to enjoy it?
Sikou has been recognised as an artisan by the Commission des Artisans after the Law dated 19 March 2014 went into force.
Of course, each person has their own idea of what being an artisan means: Age-old techniques that require specific tools, or just the hands? Stringent requirements and high quality? Using noble raw materials to the highest standards? Production solely at points of sale, or production in limited quantities that remains in the neighbourhood?
The idea of limited production has always been the exact opposite of our fundamental intention: offering ice cream in the rules of this art to as many people as possible, in a market whose quality is considered as disappointing.
That’s enough information on our philosophy and our ingredients to form your own opinion. So as we usually say to our customers: You be the judge. We think it's just a storm in a teacup.
The BIO or Organic certification gives our customers the guarantee of agricultural origin (and therefore non-chemical) of raw materials, thereby excluding any GMO, pesticide or chemical herbicide, synthetic fertiliser or sewage sludge. It also guarantees agriculture based on land-rotation and a higher environmental and animal respect.
Concerning livestock (the cows), the certification ensures that no preventative antibiotics and no growth hormones were administered to livestock and that it has not been fed with animal-based fodder. Furthermore, the livestock needs to have sufficient light, air and space to move naturally. Our cows have enormous meadows at their disposal, and this from February to November. And a train on the horizon for entertainment... You can have a look at them on our website as well as Louis, one of our farmers.
Organic certification can be obtained from 95% of organic components. At Sikou, all our recipes are 100% certified Organic. From a more practical point of view the controlling consists of a minimum of two annual checks. One of which is by appointment, the other unexpected. We must then show the products used, their storage without any risk of contamination, our purchase invoices which must match our sales, the efficiency of our system of traceability, the checks we do on our organic suppliers etc. It is by no means pleasurable, but we really are in favour of it.
We really are in favour of it… But Organic certification is not sufficient in itself to ensure good finished products. Organic certification ensures compliancy to certain specifications which entail that the product is healthy, from agricultural origin and manufactured from raw materials. Furthermore everything must have been produced with respect for our environment and the animals. However, the Organic certification does not ensure the products are made according to the rules and without substitutes. Hence there are good organic finished products and bad organic finished products, as for any product.
This amalgam has often been used. From an organoleptic point of view it is indeed sometimes the case that the industrial non-organic product is perceived as 'tastier' compared to the organic product. As this is due to the use of additives, flavour enhancers, sugar, salt or added fat that is usually found in the food industry, the organic artisans can be shoved to the side. In fact, if organic products sometimes seem to be less 'tasty', they are definitely in line with the original taste of the product, they are healthier and better for the environment and animals.
The easy solution would have been to find a dairy factory that delivers ready to use, standard, uniform and unvarying milk straight to our workshop.
The raw milk and cream used in the manufacturing of Sikou ice cream are not purchased in a dairy factory and are therefore not treated as the long-term milk we know: no UHT treatment, no standardisation treatment and no homogenising by micronisation.
UHT treatment degrades most natural nutrients of milk and all the milk enzymes. Some nutrients will be partially reintroduced afterwards. You will sometimes see the following wording on your milk cartons: 'Calcium Enriched','Enriched with vitamins'… The question of durability of milk does not arise for ice cream as it is frozen.
The standardisation process extracts milk fat from the milk and then reintroduces it into a desired invariable standard amount. So we can see a constant rate of fat on milk cartons (3.5% milk fat for whole milk, half of which for semi-skimmed, etc), while the rate of fat naturally present in milk varies with the seasons and cattle feed (grass in summer, fodder in winter). At Sikou, we feel that this standardisation is not necessary. Some consider this to be a requirement of the 'average consumer’. But we do not believe in it.
The consumers easily accept a change in taste for fruit and vegetables in season compared to out of season. Why would they not understand this same change for other products such as milk and cream? As our milk and cream are not standardised, they reflect the seasons and the feeding of the cows that produce it (fodder in winter, grass in summer). At Sikou, the natural cycle of the seasons is echoed in the flavour of our ice creams. It is our choice.
Finally, the milk of Sikou is not homogenised (micronisation process which consists of bursting milk molecules by passing them under pressure in ever finer sieves). Micronisation is used to disrupt the phenomenon of milk dividing in different layers when at rest (cream, whey, water,...) and prevents us from having to shake the milk carton. This fragmentation of the milk molecules makes milk less digestible and it may cause intestinal cramping for sensitive individuals.
« Due to the absence of UHT treatment and micronisation the products are better tolerated by our bodies. Micronisation of dairy products for example, can cause intestinal cramping for some individuals. Just as we make every effort to preserve the structure of foods we definitely do not want to get involved in food chemistry. It'a all about ice cream, just with a few ingredients, the most simple and readable ones and in accordance to what nature provides.»
Dairy products, which have an interesting complexity at the origin, are damaged by these various industrial treatments. They have a limited and/or artificially reconstituted nutritional value. This is the 'price to pay' so that everyone has access to the 'milk'. At Sikou we produce with discernment. In fact, these treatments are no longer justified for a product frozen at -18°C.
Direct purchasing from the farm allows us to select our farmers for their products and the quality of their work. We personally know our farmers, we have a beer together and consequently their work has no secrets for us anymore. This is especially important for the production of ice cream as these two ingredients account for 75% in the final product. We believe that quality control is achieved more through dialogue between people who love their job than by formal checks on documents and thermometers. These formal checks are required but if it stays at that we judge them inadequate. Buying directly from the farm removes any doubt as to the origins.
Finally, our farmers make a better living with this short distribution channel than when selling their produce to dairy factories. They are also assured that their work is valued. All too often part of the Organic milk production does not find the expected distribution opportunities. The milk is then 'downgraded' and returns in the sector of conventional milk and this is rather resented by the farmers and demeaning to their work.