IT is a common question asked by many at the Kingdom’s restaurants and bars – is the ice safe to consume?
Poor quality ice, made with suspect water and using unhygienic handling measures, often leads to illness such as stomachaches, undermining trust in the product, according to Khim Nary, owner of Pop Ice Enterprise ice manufacturers.
Although patrons at the Kingdom’s eateries often skip out on ice cubes, suffering the results of lukewarm sodas and unpleasantly warm beers, Pop Ice aims at producing quality ice to cool consumers’ drinks.
Pop Ice claims to be the first ice factory recognised by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy for the quality of its ice, meeting hygiene guidelines laid out to protect consumers’ safety.
“We have the ability to make ice at the standard used in Vietnam and Thailand,” she said.
Still a small-scale enterprise, presently with nine employees earning US$50 to $60 per month plus accommodation and food, it first opened its doors in 1990 in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork district.
With its two ice-making machines presently operating at about half their total capacity of 10 tonnes per day, Khim Nary said the goal was to sell quality ice sold at strong prices, but Cambodians had to get used to trusting domestically produced ice in order to boost sales.
“The Ministry of Industry and GTZ helped us organise our products to become a model to the industry – but we are still improving,” she said.
Dang Heng, business service coordinator for private sector promotion at GTZ, said earlier this month that there were 650 ice and drinking water enterprises in Cambodia, but only 5 percent met GTZ’s quality standards.
Khim Nary has called for improved professional skills to further the products’ quality – such as keeping ice at lower temperatures for longer amounts of time to prevent melting, when the product is sold on to customers.
“We need more professional skills and advice from the government and NGOs to improve our business,” she said. As a wholesaler, Pop Ice vends its wares at supermarkets, restaurants, clubs, shops and hotels in Phnom Penh.
The firm currently produces some 3,000 to 4,000 kilogrammes of ice per day, fetching between 150 and 200 riel per kilogramme. The ice is made on demand, as it is costly to store for longer periods, she says.
Khim Nary called for lower electricity and water costs in a bid to boost sales and allow it to keep more ice in stock.
Electricity costs are one of the main expenses of the company, she says. It also purchases 600 to 1,000 cubic metres of water per month from the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority.
High interest rates for loans had also proved a barrier to expanding the business, she said.
The economic downturn had hit ice orders, with current business levels just returning to par compared with pre-crisis levels.
“We lost a lot of clients,” said Khim Nary. “Clubs and karaoke bars closed because of the world economic crisis.”
Competition is growing fiercely in the domestic ice industry, with new manufacturers opening their doors every year.
“The number of ice makers is increasing – it’s a very difficult market to sell in,” she said. The firm aims to compete by forming strong ties with customers and competitive pricing, but particularly by strengthening the quality of its brand so that it can be trusted by Cambodians in search of a cool drink.