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Bico

The BICO story spans over 100 years and can easily take its place in the mercantile history of Barbados as one of the oldest businesses to trade in Barbados since 1901. Formed out of a merger of the Bridgetown Crystal Ice Company Ltd. which operated at the corner of Victoria and Middle Streets and the Barbados Ice Company on Bay Street, these two companies became the Barbados Ice Company Limited in September 10, 1901, under the Joint Stock Companies Act. Back then, the Bay Street operations were conducted on a property leased from the West India Rum Refinery at

But the journey has not
always been as sweet as
the ice cream for which
BICO is so well known.

£75 per annum. The lease was granted for 10 years with an option to purchase the property at any time for £625. This offer, described as quite generous by a newspaper of the day, was accepted on May 16, 1903 and the new owners were offered a rebate of £50.00 with which they repaired the breakwater adjoining the premises.

No doubt wanting to operate in the location closer to the waterfront, by 1905 the directorship agreed to move the boiler from the factory at Victoria Street to Bay Street. That piece of machinery, apparently imported in 1895, remained in use until 1914. At that time the Barbados Ice Company Limited was “exclusively in ice manufacture.” 2 However, the directors felt it was time to expand the business to include cold storage facilities. This strategic move made in 1910 was the beginning of a journey that helped to reposition the ice company from a distributor of ice to a significant provider of cold storage facilities for the mercantile community of Barbados. To facilitate this expansion, the company constructed a cold storage facility of seven rooms with a capacity of 20,493 cubic feet, with temperatures ranging between 10 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now perhaps more confident with undertaking major projects, the company embarked on yet another upward trajectory. In 1949 the Barbados Ice Company Limited made a tactical decision to produce ice cream. By 1950 a modern ice cream plant was installed and “equipped with the most up-to-date machinery for the pasteurizing, homogenizing, freezing and packaging of ice cream.” 4 Storage for about 800 gallons of bulk and packaged ice cream was available.

In 1964 the company was granted exclusive rights to handle chilled and frozen cargo at the new Deep Water Harbour and took the opportunity to build a modern ice cream plant as well. Now fully settled at the 3 acre Harbour Industrial Park location, BICO continues to offer cold storage facilities of 1 million cubic feet as one of its core businesses and remains a sub-contractor for the Barbados Port Inc., an institution to which it is inextricably linked.

The BICO story has many parts and is an intricately woven tapestry chronicling the movement of a Barbadian company from a time when it used steam generated coal-fired boilers, to its switch to internal combustion engines fuelled by gasdriven compressors, until it introduced modern machinery powered by electricity in 1935. More recently, the plant installed diesel generators which saw a 50% reduction of its fuel cost. Modern inverter type A/C units were also installed to cool offices and the company has acquired 3 electric cars, each of which runs about 140 km at a cost of about BDS$20.00.

But the journey has not always been as sweet as the ice cream for which BICO is so well known. In August 2009 the company was confronted with one of the biggest challenges any business could face. The ice cream factory, raw material warehouse and engineering workshop were ravaged by a devastating fire. Damaged parts of the infrastructure had to be rebuilt. During this period of grave disruption, quick and decisive action was taken and a cohesive staff complement worked tirelessly to maintain the BICO brand. However, because of economic constraints, BICO made a tactical decision to manufacture its products in other Caricom countries until it is feasible to resume production in Barbados.

Today, BICO is about to write another chapter in its history book as it prepares to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel to power its plant and is in the process of utilising renewable energy sources as energy alternatives. To transition to renewable energy, an energy audit was completed and a pilot photo voltaic system was installed as a precursor to the full installation of a 182KW photo voltaic system. Approval has been received from Enterprise Growth Fund Ltd. through the Energy Smart Fund for this project. The chairman of BICO pointed out, “EGFL has supported us and has been good partners. We have a longstanding and successful

As a good corporate
citizen BICO feels
compelled to “give back”
to a community which has
supported it over the years.

relationship with them.” BICO therefore feels confident about their continued relationship with EGFL. These are not small steps to take but once again the management of BICO under its executive chairman Mr. Edwin Thirlwell remains undaunted by the massive undertaking ahead and seems excited by the new possibilities in spite of the challenging economic times. According to management the switch to renewable energy and energy efficient technologies is inevitable as a positive response to escalating fuel costs. According to Mr. Thirlwell cost containment at the Harbour Cold Store and in the distribution of frozen products is strategic to BICO staying competitive and keeping its products and service within the reach of its customer base.

As good corporate citizens BICO feels compelled to “give back” to a community which has supported it over the years. The company facilitates The Salvation Army, myriad youth events including schools’ sports days, Primary Schools’ Football, Women’s Netball and at one time sponsored a children’s home. Engagement in school learning schemes is also a part of BICO’s ethos.

BICO supports partnerships and youth entrepreneurship and is engaged in a programme with the mobile fleet which it sold to agents who use BICO’s brand image and facilities but work independently. Mr. Thirlwell thinks that “the project is successful because Bico has a culture of togetherness.”

After 113 years in business, BICO Limited is recognised by its acronym BICO and the brand is associated more with ice cream although its roots are in ice manufacture and cold storage facilitation.