'Magic' in Cargills ice cream
By Akhry Ameer
A near 90-minute drive along the Negombo Road into
the outskirts of the town leads to what is described as "virgin
land". This description was once used by multinational Unilever
as part of the site selection criteria for some of their fast moving
consumer goods (FMCG) production plants.
MagicChoc, stick-based ice cream production in progress. Pic
by J. Weerasekara
this site through a narrow, winding road, giving no indication of
what awaits us, at the end of which we discover a beautiful landscape
with a building in the centre. The place is dotted with once familiar
brand names superseded by a very familiar brand name - "Cargills".
We are at the newly-acquired production plant of Cargills Quality
Dairies (Pvt) Ltd (CQD) where the company makes 'Magic' ice cream,
the latest venture by the pioneering local food retailer.
Limited bought the ice cream production plant from Unilever that
once made Walls ice cream and within two months has put it back
on track with its own brand of diary ice cream - "Cargills
Magic". Welcoming us Ranjit Page, Deputy Chairman and Managing
Director of Cargills Group exuded much confidence to face the challenge
of competing with the established manufacturers of ice cream. We
realised that he had every reason to do after a comprehensive tour
of the complex.
survival of the ducks and fish in the pond confirm the quality
of the waste water treatment process.
When we requested a complete guided tour of the factory Dr.
Jagjit S. Punjrath, Managing Director of CQD quipped: "Are
you willing to take a bath?" He said that unless we comply
we will be denied a tour of the facility. This requirement was deemed
necessary due to the demarcation of the factory complex as clean
and ultra clean areas.
We begin our
tour by removing all metallic items such as watches, rings, etc.
and donning disposable overalls and wearing non-slippery shoes designed
for visitors. After our hands are washed we visit the mix preparation
room and the testing lab that are part of the clean rooms.
of seeing workers actively involved in the mixing process turn to
disappointment when we find only a few employees seated in front
of computers. The manufacturing process is fully automated from
the very moment the raw materials are loaded into these machines
he explains. The mix room consists of a series of tanks connected
aspect from activating the various machines to transferring the
contents along the tubes and even cleaning of the tubes between
different mixes is computerised.
simply moves the mouse and clicks on the various areas and loads
different screens to change settings.
at the touch of a button, the mix is prepared and stored in what
is known as an 'ageing' tank. The duration of storage varies depending
on the mix for certain flavours, etc.
Next we visit
the lab that plays a significant role in the day-to-day operations
of the plant. This is because every single raw material that is
brought in is not unloaded from the transport vehicle until a sample
is tested and certified for use.
The lab also
has a microbiology unit which tests every item that forms part of
the manufacturing process. This includes samples taken from the
production workers, the floors, machinery, etc.
heading the unit points out that they have set for themselves standards
that are even higher than Sri Lanka Standard specifications. In
addition to these tests, the lab conducts research and further tests
at critical points during the production process as part of quality
assurance. In the event a problem is detected the production of
that particular batch is stopped forthwith.
Before entering the ultra clean area our guide Dr. Punjrath
decided not to impose the compulsory requirement of a bath "because
we had come direct to the plant and had not been in contact with
any polluted atmosphere". However, he insisted that we wash
every exposed area of our body. When we enter a room that is somewhat
like an obstacle course a senior supervisor whispered into Dr. Punjrath's
ears. I figured it was about the bath. Having sorted that out we
remove our overalls and footwear while sitting on a steel box. We
are then given yet another set of overalls that remind me of the
overalls worn by engineers at NASA. While wearing these we are told
to keep our feet off the ground and turning over to the other side
of the box we put on the non-slip boots. After washing our hands
and face we are allowed into the production room. Yet another request
and this time to wash our hands once again, this time using a special
airtight ultra-clean production room, the mixture is pumped via
tubes into a special freezer that cools and adds air into the ice
cream. This is then pumped into one of the four lines meant for
bulk, stick, cone and cup-based ice cream.
There are also
machines that load wrappers, other additions such as fruits, chocolate,
cream, etc. The entire process is automated. The workers are not
very active but most of the time wait motionless observing the production
line. They observe the production line so sharply they detect production
flaws in a twinkling of an eyelid. Suddenly one of them pulls out
what looks to be a perfectly packed 'MagicChoc' ice cream on a stick.
He tells me that the wrapper did not seal properly on that one,
and indeed it was true.
bulk line, a belt carries the home use boxes in and out of two slots
in the wall. This is where the secret of a good ice cream lies.
A fully prepared ice cream has to be hardened as quickly as possible
so that the texture is of a high quality and is creamy. The belt
carries the prepared ice cream into a 'hardening tunnel' and comes
out 45 minutes later frozen at minus 35 degrees centigrade. The
speed of processing is also something we found hard to believe,
but this high capacity plant produces as much as 3,200 litres of
ice cream per hour.
The final products are directed through metal detectors and
into the cold room where it is stored. Inside two workmen are busy
sorting out the packages but for only 20 minutes at a time as they
cannot stay too long in this room which is at about minus 45 degrees
centigrade even though they wear special clothing.
They take turns
after 40-minute breaks outside before they re-enter for another
20 minutes. From the cold room the products are finally loaded into
special freezer trucks that dock like space shuttles into the cold
room in such a way that there is no possibility of any external
air seeping in or the cold air seeping out.
Then we go
outside the factory for a tour of the complex. The 15-acre property
is regarded as a self-contained site as there is no waste. Fresh
water is collected from 80 metre deep bore wells and after the process
the waste water is treated to be used for gardening, etc. Proof
of cleanliness is evident as fish and ducks in the pond thrive in
the waste water. As for the balance residue from the treatment,
it is used as manure and is also given free to farmers around the
is so calm you do not realize the passing time. Even the 1.5 MW
generator operates silently. 'Computerized automation' are the appropriate
words to describe the plant. I found it amusing when the chairman
was once requested to leave the premises to smoke a cigarette.
around, one wonders what could be the single biggest factor that
CQD has got right and Unilever got wrong.
given by many, even the minor staff who have been employed at this
factory since its inception, is price.
The other reason
is that Magic ice cream is made from pure milk unlike other ice
creams in the market that use vegetable fat or animal fat. Cargills
obtains pure milk from dairy farmers in the vicinity and continuity
of supplies is ensured.
Is it no wonder
then that Cargills is able to wave a wand and produce ice cream
that is truly magical in quality?