Canadians love an icy beverage. According to Restaurants Canada, approximately three billion soft drink beverages requiring ice were consumed by Canadians in 2019. That same year, bars, taverns, pubs, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs primarily engaged in serving alcoholic beverages for immediate consumption served approximately 4.8 billion drinks requiring ice. And these statistics don’t even include regular full-service restaurants, quick service restaurants (QSRs), accommodation, and institutional foodservice, as well as private clubs, movie theatres, stadiums, and work camps (oil and mining, pulp, and paper, etc.) in Canada, which makes up other significant sectors that also use ice.
Total commercial and non-commercial foodservice sales in Canada reached a total of $92.8 billion in 2019. Of that, depending on the type of foodservice establishment, beverages account for between 25 and 40 per cent of the overall sales.
That’s why selecting the best commercial ice maker for your venue is so important. Get it right and you’ll keep your customers enjoying ice-cold drinks but get it wrong and they’ll quickly lose patience.
There are some important things to consider when choosing the right commercial ice maker machine. From sizing and production capacity to ambient temperature and your water source, many factors will influence the performance of your commercial ice machine and the quality of the ice it produces.
With these things in mind, we’ve created an ice machine buying guide to help you decide on the best commercial ice maker that’s right for your venue. Whether you’re looking to purchase a new or used commercial ice maker, this buyer’s guide will help you find the best commercial ice maker for your needs.
For example, a smaller ice cube will fill the glass more densely than a larger cube. This will affect the beverage volume you’re serving in each glass. That is, more densely packed ice in the glass means less space for the beverage. Even small per-glass beverage savings add up when multiplied by thousands of servings.
However, while smaller densely packed ice cubes may be fine for lower-end beverages like soft drinks, they might affect the quality of a high-end product. For example, you don’t want crushed or shaved ice diluting a top-shelf scotch.
According to the Government of Canada, when considering batch-type commercial ice makers, ENERGY STAR certified systems save, on average, about 1,200 kWh annually, or $130/year in electricity bill costs. By purchasing batch-type equipment that meets the new ENERGY STAR criteria, consumers can expect to save an additional $40/year and 6,300 gallons/year due to reduced water usage. For continuous-type commercial ice makers, ENERGY STAR certified machines save, on average, about 1500kWh annually, or $160/year on utility bills.
When choosing a commercial ice machine, an important consideration is the amount of electricity required for it to function properly. It’s important to make sure the voltage requirements of the commercial ice maker you order matches what’s available in your facility and the spot where you plan to put your machine. If it’s not available you can speak with an electrician about how you can get these requirements to match up.
The quality of the water that’s plumbed into your commercial ice machine will directly affect its performance and reliability. That’s because the minerals found in our water can build up in commercial ice makers over time. These mineral deposits can cause your commercial ice machine to consume more energy, produce misshapen ice, and eventually malfunction.
Choosing a commercial ice maker with a good built-in water filter will help to prevent this mineral build-up and ensure the efficiency and long-term performance of the machine. However, water filters don’t last forever. You’ll need to regularly check and replace the water filter to achieve the best ongoing performance.
Alternatively, you can choose to run the water through an external filter before it enters the commercial ice machine. You’ll need to purchase and install the external filter. This gives you the option of choosing a more robust filter than the built-in filter included in your commercial ice maker. Always make sure any external water filter you install is compatible with your commercial ice machine and does not void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Wastewater must be appropriately drained out of your commercial ice maker. If the machine is set higher than the drainage point then a straightforward gravity drainage system is all that’s required.
If the machine is set lower than the drainage point, you’ll need a drainage pump to remove the wastewater. Some manufacturers offer drainage pumps you can purchase as an accessory, but keep in mind that this is another component that requires maintenance and can potentially fail.
Maintenance and servicing
All commercial ice machines require regular maintenance and servicing. Refer to the manufacturer’s servicing guidelines for your machine, but a commercial ice maker generally needs to be serviced by a qualified technician once every 12 months. The technician will flush the lines to clean the machine and ensure no bacteria has built up, change the refrigerant, and check the overall operation and performance of the machine.
Between services, you’ll also need to do some DIY maintenance on the machine. You should replace the water filter every six months — or more frequently if your water source is higher in minerals. You should also clean the air filter at regular intervals to stop a blockage overheating the machine.
When choosing a commercial ice machine check that the water filter is easy to remove and change. You’ll also want to make sure the air filter is accessible without having to remove panels.
Protect your commercial ice machine investment with maintenance and servicing.
Insurance, warranty, repairs, and cost of parts
Your commercial ice maker should be covered under your overall business insurance for incidents like theft or accidental damage. Make sure your commercial ice maker is itemized on your policy so you can make a claim based on its true value.
A warranty on a new machine is essential. If you buy new you will most likely have a 12-month warranty on your commercial ice maker on parts but not on labour. Make sure you’re clear on the warranty before you buy; if there isn’t one, consider this a red flag.
When you buy a commercial ice machine, talk to your dealer about the servicing and repair schedule they recommend. At high volume, your commercial ice maker is likely to need attention even as often as three or four times per year. When you buy your commercial ice maker be sure to speak to your dealer about service and continuous maintenance. Base it on the volume you intend to see coming through your venue and factor in the possibility of increasing or decreasing the amount of service necessary for actual output.
Ideally, there will be a service and repair specialist nearby who you can call on in an emergency. If not, this could influence your decision about the commercial ice maker you buy. After all, how much income would you lose if your commercial ice maker is out of action for a few hours, a day, or more?
And remember, when you buy a commercial ice machine the cost and availability of parts will factor into your ongoing expenses. A premium machine may have parts that are more expensive to replace, repair, or even source.
2. Types of commercial ice machines
There are a few different types of commercial ice machines that will affect your purchasing decision. You’ll need to consider which type of machine is the best fit for your venue in terms of footprint and configuration and the production capacity each type of machine is designed to deliver.
For example, a self-contained under-counter commercial ice maker might be the best fit for a small cafe where space is limited and a large production capacity isn’t required.
On the other hand, a modular or freestanding unit may take up more space in your venue but can generally produce more ice per day. If there is a self-service element to your venue an ice dispenser may be the best option for you.
Here are some common types of commercial ice machines to consider:
Countertop commercial ice makers
These compact units are a good solution when you need a small commercial ice maker. They are typically self-serve units and sit on top of a counter or bench. Production volume tends to be quite limited and there is usually no ice storage bin included. This makes them great for low-volume applications like in-office staff rooms, reception and waiting rooms, and small cafeterias.
Under-counter commercial ice machines
These commercial ice makers are self-contained and can be fit neatly under counters and benches where space is limited. The commercial ice maker and bin are combined in a single unit; however, they tend to have a lower production capacity than freestanding or modular models. This makes them a good option for smaller bars, cafes, and restaurants.
Modular or machine head ice machines
These are larger freestanding units. Different machine heads can be matched with various sized bins to create a more customized solution for the amount of ice you’ll need. They tend to deliver the highest volume of ice and are a good option for larger cafes, restaurants and bars, hotels and motels, schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities, convention centres, and entertainment venues, as well as oil and mining, pulp, and paper, and other Canadian camps.
If you’re purchasing a modular commercial ice maker, you’ll need to consider the amount of ice that the modular head will produce and the ice bin size you’ll pair it with. Typically, the machine head produces the ice and drops it into the ice bin ready for use. Most ice bins aren’t refrigerated but they are insulated and generally store ice well before it starts to melt.
The size of the ice bin you select is important because you’ll be using the ice from the ice bin during high use times as the head won’t be able to produce ice fast enough to keep up with the demand. The bin should be closely matched to the machine head production capacity of the machine head. That’s because matching a lower-capacity head with an oversized bin will enable you to store a greater volume of ice, but certain size heads can only be accommodated on certain size bins.
These units are generally freestanding and have a built-in self-service element. They have a lower production capacity than modular commercial ice makers but can be a good option if you don’t need to store ice. Think of ice dispensers as a larger, freestanding version of countertop ice makers for large self-service venues like hotels and motels. They are also a much cleaner alternative than the head and bin system in a self-serve environment.
Commercial ice maker versus commercial shaved ice machine
Shaved ice is great for making all kinds of icy treats like snow cones, slushies, and blended cocktails, but commercial ice makers and commercial shaved ice machines are entirely different pieces of equipment.
A commercial shaved commercial ice maker typically doesn’t make ice. The best commercial shaved ice machines use a powerful automatic motor to grind pre-made ice cubes into shaved ice, or manual machines with a crankshaft are also available.
5. Some of the best commercial ice machines
If you’re looking to purchase the best commercial ice maker, you’ll need to go through a restaurant equipment dealer. Here are some brands and companies with products available in Canada along with the types of commercial ice machines they sell.
Note: Information on these brands/products come from the company’s website or published information. Lists of company products may change. Be sure to do your research on what to consider when purchasing a commercial ice maker.
Hoshizaki (distributed in Canada by Permul and RSL - Refrigerative Supply Ltd.) and Scotsman (below) are the two largest commercial ice maker suppliers and top brands in Canada.
Hoshizaki is a worldwide leader in high-end ice makers and has built a reputation for designing and manufacturing some of the world’s best commercial ice makers. The company manufactures a wide range of high-end cubes including crescent, nugget and flaker ice machines, and ice dispensers.
Hoshizaki has a long history in the ice-making industry having designed and developed Japan’s first fully automatic ice maker. Today they serve a wide range of global industries including the food and beverage, bar and restaurant, bioscience, healthcare, and education sectors.
The company developed Hydro Fluorocarbon-free ice machines focused on energy and water efficiency for a more environmentally friendly footprint.
Hoshizaki machines use fresh water for each ice cycle to consistently produce premium ice with clean shape, clarity, and slow dilution rates.
Scotsman (distributed in Canada by FSS - Food Service Solutions) as mentioned above is also one of the Big Two largest commercial ice machine suppliers and top brands in Canada. Scotsman has more than one million customers in over 100 countries. They exclusively design and manufacture high-end commercial ice makers.
Scotsman ice makers are available in a range of ice shapes including gourmet, classic six-sided dice cubes, compressed flake nugget and cubelets, and flake. Models are available for small, medium, and high production of all ice shapes.
The company also offers ice storage systems for use with its modular ice makers. They enable high storage capacity and come in slope front, ice shuttle, and upright storage bin options. They also have ice-crushing machines and ice dispensers.
Ice-O-Matic (Distributed in Canada by Celco) is a strong name brand for commercial ice makers in Canada and is the third most popular brand in the foodservice industry after Hosizaki and Scotsman. Ice-O-Matic has been manufacturing quality commercial ice makers for more than 50 years and produces a full range of cubers and flakers.
The company’s Antimicrobial Compound (AgION™) is included in their Ice Series cube ice makers and they have an extended seven-year warranty on their water filters.
The Elevation Series is designed for tight spaces and features one-touch rescaling and sanitizing to ensure all ice meets stringent hygiene standards.
GEM Series Pearl Ice® Machines are designed for decreased water and power consumption. Their SystemSafe monitoring technology helps to boost reliability and reduce downtime.
ICE Series Cube Ice Machines are designed for simple operation and maintenance focused on high-volume applications. The MFI Series Flake Ice Machines have a low height requirement for restricted spaces.
Brema (distributed in Canada by Eurodib) has been designing and manufacturing quality commercial ice makers since 1985. Their economy line is popular in Canada. Their products are popular for the "Street Sales" Segment (i.e., mom-and-pop type establishments rather than regional or national multi-unit chains).
All Brema products are manufactured to achieve high energy- and water-saving performance ratings and are designed for ease of cleaning and maintenance.
Available ice shapes include cube, finger, flake, and pebble. The company also manufactures fast-ice machines that produce light structured ice for venues that sell a high volume of carbonated drinks. Fast-ice makers are equipped with a
vertical evaporator and have full and economy modes so you can adjust your production and energy consumption to suit busy and slower periods at your venue.
Brema also makes a cold flake machine that sets ice at around -5°C with a thickness range from 1.5 mm to 2 mm. This gives the flakes a longer melting point, ideal for fish and dairy product storage, and use in meat cutting, baking, and chemical applications. The cold flake machines have airtight compressors for use in high ambient temperatures.
Simag (distributed in Canada by FSS - Food Service Solutions) is an economy line launched in Canada in 2020. Italian brand Simag has been making quality commercial ice machines for more than 40 years. Its machines are built for daily performance and are the workhorses of the ice-making industry.
The SDE and SHD ranges make hollow cubes and feature a Scotchbrite stainless steel body available in air- or water-cooled models. They also have a built-in cleaning system.
SCE range is great for full cubes. These models have been designed for low power and water consumption and feature the company’s automatic XSafe nautical sanitation system that’s fully integrated inside the machine.
The SVD range makes smaller dice cube shapes and features an easy-to-remove condenser filter and front evaporator access for fast self-maintenance. It has a self-diagnostic system with LED indicators.
For flake ice, check out the SPN and SPR ranges, and the SNM and SMI ranges make nugget and mojo ice. Simag also manufactures a range of compatible ice storage bins.
ITV Ice Makers Inc. is an Asian import brand launched in Canada less than five years ago. This US company has a manufacturing facility in Spain and has served more than half a million customers around the world for over 30 years.
The family-owned business is committed to developing energy-efficient commercial ice makers using clean and environmentally friendly technologies.
The company’s SPIKA ITV range of cubers has been designed to meet the needs of high-volume venues like fast-food outlets and produces dice and half dice ice shapes.
The ALFA range produces straight-edge cubes with more cubes made per cycle and optimized storage for cost-effectiveness per production batch.
ITV also offers a range of storage bins compatible with any ITV ice machine and SIRION Ice Dispensers for use in hotels.
Manitowoc Ice (distributed in Canada by Manco and promoted/sold by Garland Canada to chain customers) is a Wellbilt company promoted through Garland Canada. It’s one of the top five commercial ice makers in Canada and has high volume in national venues (e.g., McDonald's), and is also in high demand in the health care industry.
Their Modular units allow customers to select the bin and heat unit separately, essentially building their custom units. These are cube, flake, and nugget ice makers.
QuietQube® Remote Series is a remote condensing unit with interconnecting refrigerant lines.
Undercounter compact machines work well for small-volume ice production and fit in areas where height is restricted.
Countertop machines dispense chewable nugget ice and water. They’re also popular for healthcare as well as breakroom use.
Hotel dispensers feature a touchless lever chute and are exactly what you find in hotels for filling up your ice buckets. They’re available in 22 inch and 30-inch width footprints and ice only or ice and water models making them ideal for filling tumblers and sport water bottles too.
Their ice beverage machines are popular in fast food and cafeterias with several self-serve beverages and an ice dispenser.
The Speciality ice cube machine is configured for correctional facilities with tamper-proof screws. They’re also ideal for marine facilities with a stainless steel exterior, internal frame, and bulkhead to prevent corrosion.
Manitowic also offers ice storage bins and accessories for all their commercial ice machines.
Atosa (distributed in Canada by Western Refrigeration) is an Asian import brand launched in Canada less than five years ago. They have several locations in the US and one in Vancouver, as well as Western Refrigeration in Alberta, and Oakville, Ontario and feature several industrial ice machine models.
Their 140 lb. ice machine produces about 140 pounds of half-iced or half cubed ice every 24 hours. The larger 280 lb. machine produces 280 pounds of the same style of ice every 24 hours. This type of ice is easy to dispense and handle and blends well in most drinks.
The 450 lb. machine produces 460 pounds of ice in 24 hours but doesn’t come with the ice bin, though you can purchase it separately.
They also sell a hotel ice machine and an 810 lb. production ice machine with the option to purchase an ice bin for this model.
Atosa also sells a large ice storage bin.
Follett (Distributed in Canada by WD College) is a big name in the US with a smaller footprint in Canada. They specialize in machines for foodservice, healthcare, and workplaces and sell combo ice They also have ice transport and storage.
Follett machines dispense chewblet ice. According to the company, this is an easy-to-chew, slow-melting configuration that maintains drink temperature and quality comparable to cubes. They also dispense flake ice for foodservice and grocery displays.
Their Symphony plus ice and water dispensers dispense up to two 425 lbs per day (depending on machine size). These come in countertop, undercounter, wall mounts, and freestanding dispensers. Symphony also has a line of ice bins machines.
Their Vision line ice and beverage dispensers are low profile with undercounter ice storage.
Their Horizon and Maestro ice machine models use the company’s exclusive ice-through-a-tube configuration patented by the company in 1968. This configuration sets the internal components of Follett apart from others in the finger, straw, or tube-style cube market.
The company also sells an Ice Manager Diverter Valve system that provides automatic delivery of ice from one Horizon series ice machine to two separate dispensers or bins.
Kold-Draft is an Asian import brand launched in Canada just under five years ago. Their line includes commercial ice machines, ice bins, ice crushers, and ice dispensers. They have a cocktail series and an undercounter model.
Kold-Draft ice machines are a niche market. Their compact machines are made for small-volume or limited ice production needs and can also be used as a backup during peak business times. Their compact commercial ice makers are designed for small kitchens or hotel hallways.
The company claims that their products are “workhorses” and can handle large-volume production in restaurants, foodservice, hotel ice dispensers and they will even make commercial ice makers for specialty operations. They’re even used on cruise lines because of their marine unit features.
7. Commercial ice machine FAQS
How do commercial ice machines work?
While there are some differences in how different types and brands of commercial ice machines function, they generally follow the same process. Water is pumped into the machine head and filtered to remove impurities. The purified water is slowly poured over a refrigerated ice tray to freeze the water in layers to create clear ice.
Once the water is frozen, the ice tray is heated to loosen the ice. Then, depending on the make and model of the ice machine, the ice either slides into a collection bin via gravity, or a cylinder piston pushes the ice into the collection bin.
How much water does a commercial ice machine use?
This is entirely dependent on the production capacity of your ice machine. Of course, the more ice your machine produces, the more water you’ll use. However, it’s important to note that a water-cooled ice machine uses significantly more water than an air-cooled ice machine. That’s because water-cooled machines pump additional water around the condenser coils to keep the machine cool.
How do I clean a commercial ice machine?
Understanding how to clean a commercial ice maker is quite simple. You’ll need to change the water filter once every 3-6 months (depending on the purity of the inbound water) to prevent mineral build-up that affects the performance of the machine. If you purchase an air-cooled machine, it’s also a good idea to check the air filter for blockages from time to time and clean when required. To do so, ensure the commercial ice maker you purchase has an easily accessible air filter that you can get to without the need to remove panels.
Does a commercial ice maker machine need professional maintenance?
The short answer is yes. Your ice machine should be professionally serviced by a qualified technician once every 12 months. They’ll flush the lines to clean the machine and ensure there are no potentially harmful bacteria growing inside the machine. They’ll also change the fluids and assess the other components of the ice machine.
How do I install a commercial ice maker?
When it comes to how to install a commercial ice machine, it’s best to consult a qualified professional. Ice machines will need to be plumbed to a water input and a drainage line. It will also need to be connected to power and remote-cooled ice machines will need to be connected to an external condenser that is separately installed outside or in another room.
What is a commercial shaved ice machine?
Commercial shaved ice machines are a little different from commercial ice-making machines. Most shaved ice machines don’t actually make ice. Rather, they use a motor or manual crankshaft to shave down pre-made ice. To find the best commercial shaved ice machine, consider the production capacity you need, the power of the motor, and the blade material.
8. Commercial ice machine terminology
Understanding industry jargon is the vital first step in your search for the best commercial ice maker. If you don’t know the difference between a condenser and a machine head, check out these definitions:
Air filter: In air-cooled machines, a filter is used to remove particles from incoming air that may block the machine.
Beverage volume: The amount of liquid after the ice is added. The style of cube and glass you choose is important when looking at beverage volume.
Condenser: Converts liquid refrigerant into a gas during the refrigeration process.
Condenser coil: This is the metal part at the back of the ice machine. or across the bottom. The condenser coil’s job is to cool and condense your ice maker. Over time, these coils get covered in dust and dirt making it harder for them to function correctly as they can’t release heat.
Drainage point: The position of the drainage line that takes wastewater out of the ice machine.
Evaporator: This is a primary part of the commercial ice machine’s operation. The evaporator produces ice by absorbing heat from the water as the water passes over the outer surface. It’s usually made from stainless steel, copper, or aluminum.
Fan: The fans in your air-cooled ice machine cool the compressor and forces air through the coils. They help prevent the compressor from frosting over and causing the ice maker not to function as well as it could.
Footprint: The space a commercial ice maker takes up in your venue.
Ice bin: The container that is attached to the ice machine to catch and store the ice.
Machine head: The part of the commercial ice maker that freezes the water to produce ice.
Melting rate: The length of time it takes an ice product to melt.
Production capacity: The maximum amount of ice a machine can produce. This is Usually measured per hour or in 24 hours.
Refrigerant: According to Wikipedia, “A refrigerant is a substance or mixture, usually a fluid, used in a heat pump and refrigeration cycle. In most cycles, it undergoes phase transitions from a liquid to a gas and back again.”
In liquid form, the refrigerant travels around your fridge absorbing the heat and cooling the air temperature.
Some refrigerants have been found harmful to the environment so, before you decide on the best fridge brand for your needs, check the environmental impact of the refrigerant that’s used in the commercial ice maker you’re looking at.
Scoop: The implement you use to remove ice from the ice machine.
Water filter: The built-in filter that removes impurities from the water as it’s pumped into the machine.
Water supply line: The fresh water that’s plumbed into the water filter for the machine, usually made from copper water tubing.
Thanks for reading this commercial ice machine Buyer's Guide
This guide has hopefully helped you understand what to look for so you can narrow down your decision about what really is the best commercial fryer for your venue.
If you'd like the advice and guidance of a professional don't hesitate to reach out to the team at SilverChef. We have dedicated restaurant and cafe industry experts available to support you.