The ongoing pandemic has ruined the entire business of this frosty dessert, putting the growing industry in a tight corner
With only one month left of the current season, ice cream sales have seen some spikes, though not enough to make the major players optimistic about a turnaround until next year.
Every year, the demand for frosty dessert rises amid the scorching summer heat. But this year, the business has been severely affected by the pandemic and nationwide shutdown during the peak season.
"We had to keep the whole factory shut in April and May during the government-imposed shutdown," said a high official of Dhaka Ice Cream Industries Limited that sells Polar Ice Cream.
He, however, mentioned that the sales of ice cream have been increasing slowly for the last two months following relaxation of the shutdown, as the number of people coming outside is growing.
"In July and August this year, the sales volume of our ice cream was half of that in normal times. I think it will take the next year to recover the losses fully," said the official, who has been in the corporate world for the last 27 years.
Ice cream is a seasonal product in Bangladesh, and the peak sales period of this summer staple is from March to September.
This time around, the ongoing pandemic has ruined the entire business of this frosty dessert, putting the growing industry in a tight corner.
People were discouraged from coming out of the home during the 66-day countrywide shutdown from March to May, which also affected the sales of ice cream.
Marufa Rahman, a 20-year-old private university student, loves ice cream so much that she used to eat it at least four times a week.
However, the novel coronavirus-induced university closure has put the brakes on her ice cream intake.
"As I cannot go to the university, I cannot have ice cream too," said Marufa Rahman from Dhanmondi over the phone.
Her parents also have asked her not to have ice cream amid the pandemic to reduce the risk of catching a cold.
Like Marufa, tens of thousands of ice cream lovers have been staying at their homes as all educational institutions across the country have been shut since mid-March this year as part of the government's move to curb Covid-19 infections.
"The business is terrible mainly for two reasons. First, all are avoiding cold foods amid the pandemic. Secondly, educational institutions are still closed, and most of the people prefer staying indoors. We would sell more than 60 percent of our ice cream on the streets," said GM Kamrul Hassan, chief executive officer of Igloo Ice Cream that holds the largest market share in the ice cream industry in Bangladesh.
Industry insiders said the industry also has had to lose the peak season for ice cream that begins mainly with the celebration of Pahela Baishakh–the first day of Bengali calendar. A huge quantity of ice cream is sold in one day as tens of thousands of people come out on the streets to celebrate the day.
"There were almost no sales [of ice cream] from March to June. However, some amount of ice cream was sold during the latest Eid, as the Eid fell on August 1. The sale is increasing slowly as many people are now coming out after getting bored staying at home for so long," said Tanvir Haider Chaudhury, chief executive officer of Kazi Food Industries.
The sales of ice cream have also drastically fallen in the upscale ice cream parlours in the city. These shops were completely shut from March 27 to early June.
Abdul Mannan, manager of Movenpick–a Swiss ice cream chain–said before the novel coronavirus outbreak, they found it hard to make space for customers in the around 40-seat parlour. But the sales have dropped significantly amid the pandemic.
"We have kept the shop open, but no one wants to sit inside the shop in fear of contracting the virus," said Abdul Mannan, adding that nowadays, most customers are coming to the shop to take food home.
"Some regular customers are now sending their drivers or other people to take food parcels," he continued.
According to a recent study by LankaBangla Investment Limited, the market size of the ice cream industry in the country is Tk1,200 crore and the market is growing fast at a rate of 15 percent every year.
Uplift in the country's socio-economic conditions and changing food habits of the people are mainly contributing to the growth of the industry, the study observed.
Abdul Monem Limited's Igloo is the foremost market player holding 38 percent market share in the ice cream industry, followed by Dhaka Ice Cream Industries Limited's Polar Ice Cream (28 percent) and Kazi Food Industries Limited's Za'n Zee and Bellissimo (13 percent). The cumulative market share of other brands is 21 percent, according to the study.
However, the market scenario has changed following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Industry insiders said as sales have dropped significantly due to the novel coronavirus, some companies have even stopped importing the raw materials for ice cream.
"This year, we could not sell 20 percent of what we usually do every year," said GM Kamrul Hassan of Igloo.
After September, when the weather will change and the temperature will fall, sales of ice cream will drop automatically, he maintained.
"God willing, we will be able to do business next year," GM Kamrul Hassan hoped.