2017 EPIA Convention in Wroclaw – Poland

EPIA Convention in Wrocław, Poland 2017

Before I highlight the events of our 2017 Convention, I must recognize the outstanding efforts of our host, Wieslaw Swierzynski and his staff at Ice Art. It’s hard to believe Wieslaw could outdo himself the second time around(having hosted the 2009 Convention), but he never disappoints! Thank you for providing a fantastic venue, engaging activities, and delightful entertainment for all EPIA members!

Also it is appropriate to thank each attendee for making the convention both fun and informative. Without your participation, the convention would not be interesting or serve the purpose of exchanging ideas.

We began with the BoD meeting on Wednesday afternoon to resolve a few outstanding issues pertaining to the direction that EPIA will be headed in 2018 and beyond. Three of these topics were as follows:

  1. All packaged ice producer members must be HACCP certified by a third-party certification organization. The BoD has decided to engage the firm of Baker-Tilly to survey the European market for food processing certification authorities to determine which certification awards meet or exceed the Euro PIQUES Manual that provides the standards for EPIA HACCP Certification.This list will be distributed once compiled. This same publication will advise as to what certifying organizations participate in the food industry with experience in investigating ice production facilities. FYI: the Euro PIQUES Manual is available on the EPIA. Our tag line of “Ice you can trust” has the ring of truth to it that we want all our customers to understand.
  2. At times, corporate guests have been invited by EPIA members to attend and participate in the EPIA annual convention. As a result, there has been confusion as to who should be a welcomed guest and who should not be invited or allowed into the general assembly and vendor display areas (since they are not EPIA members). Discussion among the BoD members centered on the benefits of EPIA membership which we all want to uphold. The guests we had this year participated in the convention by presenting what was pre-determined by the BoD to be interesting and worthwhile in promoting further understanding of the packaged ice industry within and outside of Europe. The BoD continued to discuss protocol to be used when non-members request attendance or are invited by members of the association, and we reached unanimous agreement about this protocol by the end of the convention. This protocol will be added to the Operational Guidelines as an appendix and also published on the EPIA website within the “members only” area.
  3. A few years ago, the BoD moved the association registration out of Germany, where it had never been completely or officially registered. The association’s registration application was then legally registered in Spain and, in order to do so, had to be represented by three involved Spanish individuals with Spanish tax identification numbers. The three directors chosen were Miguel Angel,Pedro Torres, and Andres Gutteriez. This made very good sense, since Miguel is a principal of the ice producer Procubitos and was the initial EPIA President, Pedro was an accountant for Procubitos at the time and Andres was a principal of the EPIA member Traxxel and is an attorney. Rather than operating under the registered bylaws, which would require a notary to amend or alter whatever refinements were needed, we added a clause that introduced the ability to manage the association’s normal activities using the Operational Guidelines written for that specific purpose. The Operational Guidelines are amended, altered, and maintained by the BoD as needed. As the EPIA legally registered bylaws currently stand, the three “official” directors are the only ones held responsible for actions of the elected BoD and members. After much discussion, the BoD decided that a legal document will be prepared to absolve the “legal” directors from liabilities resulting from the actions of the elected directors, staff, and members of the EPIA.

Upon arrival in Wrocław, the first thing that our members were greeted with as they checked into the Haston Hotel was EPIA key cards for entry to their hotel rooms, courtesy of Automatic Ice Systems (AIS) for the third consecutive year. Two interesting things happened with these key cards this year. First, my bag containing 120 of the key cards was pulled out of the airport security check for having a possible explosive device inside. It seems that how I had them packed, tied in a tight package, looked like a block of explosives or a deck of counterfeit credit cards, neither of which was acceptable to airport security. Once removed from my carry-on bag in a separate search area and a full explanation provide as to why I had them, all was well and they made their way to the hotel for distribution to all EPIA attendees at the Registration Desk. The instructions were clear that as people checked onto the hotel the desk-clerk was to only use these key cards for EPIA convention attendees. Who do you suppose came to me during the Welcome Cocktail Party with a standard Haston Hotel card key? Don Carpenter and Miche Carpenter from AIS both were given the generic card. Needless to say, I was embarrassed and reminded the hotel desk to only use the AIS-sponsored key cards.

We officially kicked off the convention with the traditional Welcome Cocktail Party on Wednesday night. The event was again sponsored by Automatic Ice Systems and became the traditional ice breaker with an open bar for the party duration and more canapes than could possibly be consumed by our attendees.

Thursday morning started with morning greetings in the hotel restaurant followed by coffee with our supplier members in the foyer of the meeting and display hall. Following coffee, the general assembly was addressed by Pedro Torres to set the tone and explain how the convention would proceed. Our first presentation was a guest who is a customer of several of our Spanish ice producers, Juan Carlos Martinez and Ivan Garcia of Mercadona S.A. Mercadona is a grocery chain with over 1600 sales outlets throughout Spain. Juan Carlos spoke about the corporate philosophy regarding packaged ice and how it fits into their mix of products sold. One very important point that was made clear is the expectation by their customers and guarantee from Mercadona as to the quality that Mercadona products have in order to maintain the confidence of their customers. That requirement for quality extends to all packaged ice being supplied only from HACCP-certified packaged ice producers. The presentation was followed by a lively question-and-answer session that continued until the mid-morning coffee and refreshment break sponsored by Patkol and Wessamat. Patkol and Wessamat again this year sponsored all four coffee and refreshment breaks strategically placed to enhance the mingling of producers and supplier members in the convention meeting areas. Our thanks go out to other sponsors for 2018 that have not already been mentioned; Leer, for sponsoring the name tag lanyards we each were provided during registration and wore throughout the convention, Coalza, Polimur, IMC & Plasticos Reca, and (each contributing to our evening festivities), and Ice World Journal (the IWJ is sent to each member quarterly at no cost to you) for helping to promote the future of packaged ice in Europe and around the world.

Prior to lunch we had a panel discussion about how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) affects all commerce today and how some of our supplier members provide products and technical support to help our ice producers and other supplier members incorporate IIoT components and procedures in their supply chain, production, sales, distribution, and back-office activities to stay competitive in this fast changing industry. Stan Williams introduced the topic with some industry experiences and then introduced the panel for open audience participation. Our panel consisted of Don Carpenter, AIS; Darrel Mount, Keet Consulting; Jason Dulle, Modern; and Ben Albregts, Leer. The panel discussion continued for 30-40 minutes and served the purpose that was intended. Supplier and producer members conversed before the general assembly and shared ideas and experiences for all to learn. One interesting point that surfaced is that our producer members are of vastly different sizes and number of production facilities, but all understand the importance of automation and facility expansion in a methodical and well planned approach to reduce unnecessary equipment disposal when plants are expanded. Most, if not all, indicated that the plant expansion planning takes into account starting with equipment capable of more production than initially needed so that increased production does not always require scrapping current equipment, but rather adding components to maximize the unused capacity of existing equipment.

Wrocław has a beautiful center. Like so many European cities the center in the focus of life for the residents and tourists. We were treated to a team building event sponsored by IMC S.A. this year that was thoroughly enjoyable and educational. One of Wrocław’s most popular, memorable and iconic attractions is not a cathedral, not a castle or monument, but a legion of little people: gnomes, or ‘krasnale’ (in local parlance). In Wrocław’s city center, these merry munchkins are simply ubiquitous – dotting doorways, alleyways and street corners; constantly. You may well overlook the first few that cross your path, but inevitably – and often literally – you will stumble upon these popular local resident objects. Our team building challenge was to find a specific seventeen of these gnomes hidden in plain sight on the streets. This was somewhat challenging in the dark after sundown, but the winner was rewarded with a bottle of Polish vodka while we ate more Polish food and listened to a jam session at the Liverpool Bar in the basement of a building near the city center.

Found outside the city jail is a prisoner enjoying the sunshine and this Sisyphean task performed by two gnomes two working against each other on the main walkway near the center of town where these 20 spheres were found.

The next morning we were once again treated to a very informative and enjoyable presentation from another guest, Alex Abuafia of Bell’s Pure Ice http://www.bellspureice.com.au/. Bell’s Pure Ice is the largest packaged ice producer in Australia and provided the general assembly the story of Bell’s Pure Ice and their idea of the packaged ice industry moving forward. We were all impressed with Alex’s strategy for keeping entrepreneurial family ideas and young energy in each branch of the business as it grew to the current size.

This presentation was followed by Pedro Torres explaining the results of the marketing survey conducted by Baker-Tilly, a market research organization in Spain. In summary a SWOT analysis was provided along with some indication of market penetration in the EU countries. This study can be found on the EPIA website in the “members only” section. The BoD will use this information to determine marketing initiatives for 2018 and beyond.

Last year our members asked for more transparency and disclosure of the EPIA finances. Francisco provided an overview of the 2015 and 2016 balance sheets, and income statements, performance against budgets, as well as the projection for year end 2017. This year the BoD engaged an auditor to review our books and as expected, we are following generally accepted accounting principles. The final full audit document is forthcoming and any suggestions will be reviewed for implementation.

Two other very important topics were on the agenda prior to lunch and then further mingling with our supplier members during the entire afternoon was planned. As a group, we discussed the options of where the ten-year anniversary of our official founding of the EPIA in Seville Spain in 2008 should be held in 2018. The proposed locations were as follows: London, Paris, Malta, South Africa, and Venice. When we took the vote and counted the ballots, it was confirmed that Venice had the most interest and the tentative dates are 17 through 20 October 2018. As such, José Ramirez & Federico Serviado of Premium Italia SRL will be our hosts for the convention. This will be a first, since Premium Italia has only just joined the EPIA this year and has a newly built factory near Venice. Talk about membership initiation! The BoD and staff look forward to working with José & Federico to once again make the annual convention the culmination of another successful year for the EPIA members, but this year the culmination of ten years of hard work promoting packaged ice by all members.

After the fun of selecting the next party place, we heard from each of the members who felt a responsibility and desire to serve on the 2018 Board of Directors. The 2017 President, Pedro Torres, having served on the Board as Treasurer during our transition from Germany to Spain and for the last two years as President/Chairman, resigned to allow an opening on the Board and encourage more members to join the BoD. After each aspiring member had a moment to speak, we voted by secret ballot (one ballot per member company). The results were as follows:

President/Chairman Francisco Wendt Francisco is now the fifth person to hold this position of President/Chairman. He previously served as Treasurer for two years and will provide the calm levelheadedness to lead the EPIA during 2018.
Vice President Jack Stensland Jack was re-elected to the position he held in 2017.
Treasurer Stuart Bean Stuart serves as the Commercial Director of Eskimo Ice and will help mold the restructuring of the EPIA financial system along with Francisco’s overall guidance. The restructuring is to offload some of the Treasurer’s activities to our bookkeeper and accountant contractors. This will allow more member participation on the BoD in the future by negating the need for our Treasurer to have an accounting background.
Supplier Representative Alberto Carvajal Alberto works at Keith Walking Floor and resides in Madrid. Alberto will add a fresh ear to suppliers ideas and encourage suppliers members involvement in activities during the year.
Producer Representative Lars Christensen Lars was re-elected from the 2017 BoD where he held the same position.

The celebration for the Gala Dinner was held in the hotel ballroom and we were treated to African fire dancers and a carved ice sculpture set on fire by Frank de Conynck. We were simply delighted by the roasted pigs that were being carved for our culinary enjoyment (WOW! They were so sweet, tender, and delicious). The sponsor for this gala diner was Plasticos Reca. Did I mention that the evening was greatly enhanced by copious amounts of food, disco lights, and dancing while trying to consume the seemingly never ending wine and vodka provided in large ice buckets on all tables throughout the ballroom?

As always, our annual conventions must come to an end. This year we visited the factory of our host, Wieslaw Swierzynski of Ice Art, where we were treated to a tour of one of the largest ice block manufacturing factories on Europe. Of course, eating traditional Polish sausages and beef barbequed over charcoal as we participated in the annual ice bag throwing contest was the perfect ending to our convention. Once again we should have known to disqualify Phillip Marr from entering the contest for being a professional ice bag thrower because he’s won every year since the York contest in 2012! Phil, we will give you an enduring trophy if you agree to stand down and let us mere mortals compete.

Finally, someone we must all thank is Maryse Prior. Maryse, our Correspondence Secretary, works throughout the year to keep the EPIA running smoothly. Without Maryse all the questions you have during the year and things you see at the convention would not be there. I think of Maryse as a beautiful mother duck with her ducklings (we members) gliding over a still lake. Above the water everything is serene and controlled, but below Maryse’s feet are paddling as fast as they can go. I think it is safe to say that each of us in the EPIA owe our EPIA existence to Maryse. Thank you Maryse.

All I can do to summarize the 2017 convention is to say Wow, what a ride! See you all in Venice in 2018!

Stan Williams

Managing Director