Ice Freaks Love GE’s Weird New Ice Machine

The appliance giant’s counter-top nugget ice machine is blowing up, thanks to a dedicated subculture of maniacal ice munchers. 

The American South has been called, among other things, the “Chew Belt,” because the sweaty inhabitants of the humid climes below the Mason-Dixon line love chewing on ice. Nugget ice, in particular. If you’ve ever had a soda from Sonic, you know the stuff. It’s small, crunchy and eminently chewable. It’s also damn near impossible to make at home.

GE is about to change that. Yesterday, the appliance company launched an IndieGoGo campaign (yes, even a corporation with a $262 billion market cap can make use of crowdfunding) for its Opal Nugget Ice Maker, a countertop device that produces freezing cold crunchy crack. The campaign is less about raising money—GE’s got plenty of that—than about marketing the machine and soliciting feedback from interested consumers. And that feedback has been orgasmic. At the time of this writing, that Opal has raised half a million dollars from more than 1,300 people. Some people really love ice.

But GE already knew this. That’s why it built the Opal in the first place. A product of the company’s FirstBuild lab, the Opal was born after a message board suggestion led the company to dig further into this phenomenon. They found a subculture teeming with ice obsessives, both in and outside of the “Chew Belt.”

Look around—it’s not hard to find stories of people buying 10 pound bags of nugget ice from fast food joints and people dropping $3,000 to have an industrial machine installed in their kitchen. There are Facebookgroups honoring to the stuff and an app that will tell you the nearest place to find  it. These dedicated ice lovers convinced GE to build the Opal, FirstBuild’s Taylor Dawson told me last week. Dawson himself is a nugget ice fan and he says when he saw people acting strangely to satisfy their desire he knew there was a market for this counter-top machine, which will produce three pounds of nugget ice at a time.

The only bad news for ice freaks is that they’ll have to wait until next summer to get their machines. Until then, there’s always Sonic.