2013 EPIA Convention in Palermo – Sicily

What a fantastic convention we had in Palermo, Sicily! We were graced with perfect sunny weather, 23°C during the days and 17°C early in the mornings (as many of us found out during the wee early hours). Palermo turned out to be an exciting city, from the cab rides down one-way streets the wrong way (cabs and buses seem to be allowed to share the far right lane against on-coming traffic), to the crazy night life, to the wild ice bag throwing contest with so many uncontrolled bags of ice flying in unsuspected directions. Our hosts, Simone and Leopoldo from Ice³, could not have been more hospitable!

We kicked off the convention with an informal cocktail party in one of the most beautiful rooms in this “Grand Dame” hotel from the 1890’s. The wine and canapés seemed to never end–what a wonderful start to the business at hand.

The next morning, we got down to the business of promoting “Ice You Can Trust” with the introduction of new members, directors’ reports, committee activities, and the unveiling of the improved EPIA website with interactive functionality for our members.

We opened the floor to discuss some very serious questions about what the EPIA is and what we should be doing by asking ourselves, “Are we the Packaged Ice Industry?” That question was then followed by, “If so, should and can the EPIA make a difference? If so, how?

The consensus was “yes”, we are the packaged ice industry in Europe, and we can make a difference by doing the following:

Promote the packaged ice industry in Europe

  • By creating awareness and end-customer education to grow the demand for clean safe ice for human consumption; and
  • By educating government agencies in order to influence regulations aimed at ensuring that consumable ice, whether produced on-premises or from factories, is safe to eat.

Provide a competitive advantage to our member companies

  • By subscribing to high production and distribution health standards to set EPIA members at a higher level than other ice producers that merely provide ice with little concern for hygienic controls; and
  • By developing a recognized label promoting “Ice You Can Trust.”

Nurture new EPIA members

  • By acquiring new members who subscribe to the same high levels of concern for quality as our current HACCP certified members;
  • By becoming more knowledgeable of government grants and incentive financing to help our current members expand and new members to complement our distribution range; and
  • By growing our membership roles with only high quality companies to enhance the reputation of EPIA members providing only pure, safe packaged ice.

After the first thought provoking day, we were all treated to an informative introduction to the history of ice production in Sicily. We traveled to the Museum of Modern Art, GAM, in the bustling center of Palermo and enjoyed a preview of the film documentary by director Nello Correa about early ice production in Sicily, followed by a tour of the Museum and a Sicilian wine and food buffet in the lovely outdoor courtyard with the wine supplied by Count Lucio Tasca a descendant of the original Tasca family who founded Tasca d’Almerita Winery in 1830.

On Friday, we discussed how to overcome the current limitations to accomplishing what we have now agreed to implement. The limitations that are most evident are as follows:

  • Lack of HACCP certification documentation attesting to the ice quality standards and practices of our members.
  • Approximately 25% of our current members are independently HACCP certified as meeting the EPIA standards agreed upon several years ago. This metric must change if we truly stand for the quality of packaged ice we promote as “Ice You Can Trust.”
  • It was agreed upon by the membership in attendance that the HACCP certification be a requirement of membership. The agreed upon timing for certification is that every producer/distributor member must be HACCP certified by the time of the 2014 convention. Those not meeting the minimum mandatory requirement will have the opportunity to resign or stand before the membership and explain their actions and progress toward certification and request a short grace period from the assembled members in order to complete their work to attain full compliance and certification.
  • Member participation

It was discussed that of the 73 companies affiliated with the EPIA today, 16 people from only 13 companies participate in association management and initiatives by serving as directors and committee members. That translated to 60 member companies not actively involved or more than 80% of the membership not actively participating in making the EPIA what we all have agreed that it should represent.

The result of this discussion was that virtually every company will now actively participate in one or more committees or serve as a director. The initial committee meetings showed much more activity and excitement than has been seen during prior committee formation planning.

  • Funds available

Only enough funds for limited organizational support and convention planning. Today we can only afford one part time staff member. This is a difficult issue.

The discussions included imaginative solutions, such as crowdfunding, government grants, increased dues based upon various size and activity guidelines and several other options that proved just as elusive.

One important point was agreed upon after some full membership discussion. We need to have an additional paid position to keep the association running throughout the year in a productive manner. Several questions were voiced as to the cost of this position, but that was put on hold until a formal job description is developed by the Board of Directors. Once that is agreed upon, a cost of that position based upon the duties and amount of time envisioned can be determined. The job description is now underway and under review by the directors.

  • New industry in our market areas.

Ice in Europe is not new, but has not become popular until now, with the possible exception of Spain which has become a relatively mature market.

This was universally recognized and obvious to all that we have a great amount of growth to experience if we go about it in a well-planned manner.

Now that we have formulated a plan, we must take advantage of the excitement of the convention and move out smartly to implement what the membership has directed the Board of Directors to do.

For our final celebration, we rewarded ourselves with a night on the town. This time to the famous Terrazzo Beach House also built in the 1890’s and sitting at the end of a pier in Mondello Bay near Palermo. Renowned Bonetta dell’Oglio demonstrated how to make “arancini”, which are stuffed rice balls and a staple of the Sicilian diet. She then held a contest among teams of our members to see who could make the most “arancini” in ten minutes. All of us were able to sample the prepared “arancini”, along with a spectacular multiple-course Sicilian meal with more delicious local wine which turned out to be more than could be consumed that night. This was followed by dancing to the tunes of our own private Disc Jockey on the back deck beside the lapping waves from the Mediterranean Sea.

For those who could still function on Saturday morning, we traveled to the Ice³ plant in Termini Imerese on the north coast of Sicily for the annual ice bag throwing contest. True to form, after a fascinating plant tour, we all again succumbed to fine Sicilian fried sea creatures and liquid refreshment nestled in ice, fresh from the factory.

I want to personally thank each of you that attended this convention and want you to know how much you contributed to making the EPIA the best we can make it and to leave you with this last thought from the convention

We WILL make a difference in 2014!*

* But each one of us has to participate to make it happen

2nd Annual Ice Bag Throwing Championship