The coronavirus appears to have deepened Barbadians love affair with their iconic BICO ice cream leading to a record jump in profits amid a strong second quarter performance for the 119-year-old ice cream maker and its cold store.
Executive Chairman Edwin Thirlwell said the results reflect the “repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures including a national shutdown and curfew, and also highlight the flexibility, diversity and resilience” of the company operating in very difficult circumstances.
Despite the almost total loss of revenue from the hospitality industry amid Barbadian tourism’s deepest crisis, BICO reap an increased profit of 163 per cent year to date, over the same period last year.
Thirlwell said: “In the three months April to end of June 2020, ice-cream sales increased by 28 per cent due to the high demand for BICO home delivery service.
“During the same period, Harbour Cold Store revenues increased by 59 per cent due to unsold local produce placed in cold storage until demand recovers. Altogether, a very commendable result made possible by the support and cooperation of the entire team for which the company is grateful. It was truly a case of ‘all hands on deck’.”
He told Barbados TODAY the performance was totally unexpected, adding that “it was just that everything went in the right direction for us”, since farmers needed to store items and people were in need of a “feel-good” product – ice cream – owing to the pandemic and its implications.
“So on this occasion it went in our direction because we identified a need and we fulfilled it. That was exactly what happened… [and] we are fortunate that we are the feel-good factor,” he said.
The company’s performance was also sweetened by the offering of deals and the BICO Home Delivery service, which sold almost twice as much product as usual.
“That was a beyond expectation result… We performed better than we ever envisaged. The performance April, May and June was beyond expectations,” he declared.
In April, during the height of the pandemic, the company had started to implement a restructuring programme where employees with vacation were offered to take the time off, others had to choose to work a shortened work week and senior management had to take a pay cut.
But the cutbacks were short-lived after sales continued to climb during the months under review, said the BICO boss.
“I started the ball rolling by saying ‘okay, take ten per cent of my pay, then I said make that 20 per cent’,” said Thirlwell.
“We went through that but it did not even last. About three weeks before we got [very busy].
“So it was short-lived. I think we overreacted, but it is better to act and not need it than not act when you need it.”
BICO, which began as an ice maker in 1901 and started making its iconic ice cream in 1949, managed to maintain jobs during the second quarter.
And while the company had planned to open a state-of-the-art factory in May, that was again forced to be delayed, this time as a result of the national shutdown associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It was first scheduled to be open in February.
Thirlwell said the plan now was to have it up and running by mid-September.
“So the date that we are firmly sticking to is the middle of September. And it is looking like the $4 million that it ought to look like. So we are very close,” he said.
But despite the buoyant performance for the third quarter, Thirlwell said the prospects for the months of July, August and September remain uncertain.
Pointing out that new strategies will be required post COVID, he promised that BICO would continue to innovate and adjust.
Praising the authorities for a job well done so far in catching the COVID-19 cases and stopping any further spread, Thirlwell said he was hopeful.
“But if it goes wrong then we are in trouble again. That is why I am saying I don’t know from one day to the next how secure we are, but we are making plans, after COVID-19 nothing will be the same again,” he said.
“We just have to hope everything quietly start to rebuild . . . we just have to hope that it goes according to plan, but we cannot guarantee that it will. We can’t guarantee that the money we made up to the end of July won’t wither away in July, August and September. It is flattening out now but we are going to do things to build up and try and sell more.”