'Save yourself who can' in the race for the ice of the Spanish summer

At the La Polar ice distributor in Benicàssim, the work environment today is reminiscent of that of a mask company at the height of the COVID pandemic. "We are hooked on the phone all day trying to buy anywhere. They call us from anywhere in Spain, some colleagues have even been called from Naples," explains Moisés Prieto by phone.

Ice is scarce in the country, after a winter in which manufacturers did not stock up due to the high price of electricity, a warm end of spring in which consumption exploded and a summer of successive heat waves. So gas stations and supermarkets respond to the gender gap by limiting purchases, while organizers of big events juggle and call in favors to stock freezers before they open their doors.

Cross your fingers, for example, Cástor Herrera, head of the Rototom Sunsplash festival, focused on reggae music, which will be held from the 16th to the 22nd of this month, also in Benicàssim. "They told me that if I was a conspiracy theorist," recalls the man who recriminated him when he commented in his environment that some distributors were warning him, already at the end of June, by San Juan, that this year there was going to be little ice, that the factories began to overwhelm.

It turned out that it was true. "Prices are tripled. People are anticipating payments before receiving the goods, they are exorbitant amounts," she says. He says that he covered his back as soon as he heard the first rumors of shortages, pulling contacts. "In principle for the Rototom we have it solved [el suministro]but until I have it in my hand I am not totally calm", he says.

"Right now, if five units are manufactured in Spain, 17 are being sold," says Prieto, the manager of the distributor La Polar. "If you ask me if there will be gender next week, nobody knows," he says. He explains that the race to not run out of cubes is a man for himself. "You ask for a trailer and when it comes to you, half is there, because the other has been sold. We cheat like this, paying triple because we have no other, [porque] You have to keep the market as it is".

What happened? "We came from two years of pandemic, the companies were a bit undercapitalized and have not invested in storage. Storing a pallet in a vault was worth three times [en enero]. That plus the rise in the price of plastic for packaging has resulted in a perfect storm, now that everything has suddenly opened up in the summer," he reasons.

The company Procubitos manufactures around 20% of the ice sold in Spain in four factories, the largest of which is in Cebreros (Ávila). Its director of operations, José María Sánchez, explains that the demand forecasts at the beginning of the year fell short. The company intended to start stocking goods in May, but as spring progressed they had to accelerate times and start producing in all factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from mid-April. The normal thing was that until May they worked in three daily shifts, resting on weekends.

Should they have started earlier? "It is a very seasonal industry, in which 60% is sold in four months. And from the beginning of the year there were conditions that affected the business, such as inflation and the increase in the price of electricity, which you cannot pass on to customers because you have already agreed on the prices," says Sánchez.

Although the ice takes two years to expire, having the chests at 18 degrees below zero was an excessive cost, they understood in Procubitos, which says it is meeting the demand committed to customers throughout the year. But it's costing them more with seasonal or bounces from other providers. The manager also points to a commercial factor: "There are customers who want the ice, but with their brand. That makes it difficult to build 'stocks'. In those cases, the one who should have stocked up is the customer," he defends.

"In this business there are no large margins", repeat the sources of the sector, which justify that the extra cost is passed on to the client, at least partially. "A part moves," admits Moises Prieto. "Our average price is one euro for two kilos of ice, which comes to about 40 cubes. Now it would be around 7.5 euro cents per cube," says José María Sánchez. Before the bottleneck, the amount It was around seven cents.This rise has been sudden and is already being noticed in some bars and restaurants, for example in Madrid.

Elisabeth Gervasio, from the Íjole restaurant, on Calle Embajadores, explains that if the bags cost 75 cents seven days ago in the supermarket, now they reach two euros in some establishments. "There isn't any!" complains this hostess. With ice, in the middle of August, the demand is inelastic, she comes to say: "You have to get it from wherever. What do you do without ice now? If you need it, you have to buy it."

Rationing has begun in supermarkets. In one in front of the Príncipe Pío station, a sign warns: "We limit the sale of ice to two units per customer", and reminds that they do not sell wholesale. "They came to deliver twice a week, and now only once; it is being noticed," says the manager.

A similar panorama can be seen at a couple of gas stations near the Embajadores roundabout. "I come from Malaga and it's the same there. The demand is brutal," says Fran Ramírez, in charge of the first, where the limit per customer is five bags or one bag. "I have spoken with the supplier and he says that they will do everything possible to spend tomorrow, but they do not guarantee it," says David Miranda, from the competition, who only has a dozen bags left.

The summer lack of ice thus adds to a 2022 of supply problems for multiple products, between cuts in supply chains resulting from the pandemic, the war and the other convulsions of the global economy. At the reggae festival in Benicàssim, with the supply apparently assured, Cástor Herrera allowed himself a few days ago to joke with the beer distributor, who was less dependent on ice, a priori: "You'll be happy," he told him.

But it turned out not, because another material that is missing is aluminum, which is important for the barrels. "And when it's not that, there's no glass or cork for the bottles," adds the man, laughing but without hiding his concern for the future, which he fears apocalyptic: "This is on the way to Mad Max."

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