During scorching Hong Kong summers, frozen drinks are a staple of cha chaan teng.
For a few dollars more, the glasses of the city’s cafes are filled with ice cubes – a small price to pay for a tea with lemon or fresh milk. But the end of affordable frozen drinks could be on the horizon, according to Hang Chan, executive director of one of Hong Kong’s leading ice cream makers, Turbo Ice.
Every morning, Turbo Ice’s 50 or so delivery trucks and third-party dealers leave its Tuen Mun factory and embark on journeys to every district of Hong Kong except the outer islands. These vehicles provide 30% of restaurants and bars in the city with bags of edible ice cubes every time they place an order.
Turbo Ice occupies approximately 50,000 square feet of brownfield land – agricultural land largely used for warehouses and industrial purposes. However, the site has been earmarked for a social housing development project which the Development Office says will house 21,600 families, giving Turbo Ice just three more years at its current location.
“Where can I go? »
Over nearly four decades, the ice cream maker has moved from manual labor to fully automated production, increasing the number of edible ice cube packs produced daily from around 1,000 to over 20,000.
When Chan sat down with HKFP in the Turbo Ice “conference room” – the entire ground floor of a two-story container office – he explained how come cha chaan teng charge 2 HK $ extra for frozen drinks.
Before factories like Turbo Ice emerged in Hong Kong, Chan said restaurants either had to make their own blocks of ice and manually chop them into cubes or buy shaved ice from wet markets, which would lead to additional time and costs.
But now, thanks to Hong Kong’s four major ice cream suppliers, edible ice cubes are just a phone call away. And these days, a 10-kilogram pack of ice cubes costs no more than HK$30.
Chan said this business model is unique to Hong Kong, where many restaurants don’t have enough space or the right conditions for an ice machine. Even if they do, they will have to rely on ice suppliers to cover increased demand during peak hours or hottest periods.
Like many others in the industrial sector, Chan considered moving his ice cream factory to mainland China, from where he planned to deliver the products to Hong Kong. But Chan said the idea turned out to be “impractical” and “inefficient” because it was too difficult to maintain the quality of their ice cubes during long-distance delivery.
Additionally, he said there isn’t such a big market for his business in mainland China, because restaurants there have enough space for their own ice cream machines, and “the culture is different.”
“Iced milk tea, coffee and lemon tea are part of Hong Kong culture. Our production was born and raised in Hong Kong,” Chan said. “Where can I go? »
Although Chan is the executive director, he wears the same uniform as any other worker at the ice cream factory – a royal blue polo shirt with the company’s four-character Chinese name stitched onto his pocket in red.
Chan started working at the ice cream factory as a summer job when he was 16, when his family took over the business.
For Chan, the greatest source of job satisfaction came from his colleagues. “When you see a lot of your co-workers, partners, friends starting a family and supporting their wives, sons and daughters, or maybe buying their own car and house…you also feel happy,” a- he declared.
The possible closure of Turbo Ice also jeopardizes the employment of its 110 employees and 30 subcontractors. “A lot of our workers feel worried, lost and helpless,” Chan said.
Meanwhile, the Development Office has called the clearance of the Ice Plant “necessary”, saying three years should give Turbo Ice “ample time” to prepare for the move.
However, simply relocating the factory was never an option for Chan, who said he would have to set up a new factory if he wanted to continue operating, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
“What we have invested in is…permanently planted in the ground. It’s not the case that we can move everything immediately after being ordered to do so,” Chan said.
For example, Chan estimated that less than half of the factory’s ice-making machines would continue to operate if they had to be moved.
The Tuen Mun factory also needed five two-story water tanks to cool all its equipment, Chan said, while most industrial buildings only allow one space.
According to Chan, authorities said they would not help Turbo Ice find alternative land or guarantee the business could continue seamlessly after any relocation. Instead, he was promised unspecified compensation and told to find replacement premises himself.
However, Chan said he searched everywhere to no avail. “Sheung Shui, Kwu Tung, Hung Shui Kiu and the whole northern metropolis… I really can’t find any suitable ground.”
A suitable location for an ice plant would have to meet specific water and power supply conditions, Chan said, adding that it should be accessible for its delivery trucks and employees. “If I can’t find a balance, can I [the government] to push [my business] when he died ? Chan asked.
Fear of a supply shortage
In Chan’s eyes, the government has never tried to understand Hong Kong’s ice supply industry. “They absolutely ignored us,” he said.
If Turbo Ice were to close in three years, Chan said he feared it would lead to an ice shortage in the city.
“If I understand correctly, during the hottest period, all [ice suppliers’] production capacity barely meets Hong Kong people’s demand,” Chan said.
As to whether Hong Kong’s other ice factories could expand to cover Turbo Ice’s production capacity and logistics during Hong Kong’s sweltering summers, Chan said he could not speak for them. HKFP contacted the other three major ice cream factories in the city for comment, but they did not respond.
At the same time, Chan said many of his customers were shocked to learn of the ice factory’s possible demise.
“If a convenience store closes, you can just go to a nearby store, you don’t think ‘what am I supposed to do now? ‘” Chan added.
The “responsibility” of the authorities
Turbo Ice is not the only rural business that needs to make way for the government’s upcoming development plans in the New Territories. Hong Kong’s Last Sawmill Chi Kee Sawmill and Lumberas well as decades-old sauce makers Yuet Wo and Kui Lee Sauce also face closure.
Last Thursday, Development Secretary Bernadette Linn said the government plans to make land available next year for the construction of multi-storey industrial buildings with areas set aside for brownfield industries affected by official development plans. .
“We hope to offer a below-market rental price…for [offer these businesses] the ability to upgrade or transform,” Linn said.
But Chan Kim-ching of Liber Research Community, an NGO that focuses on land and development policies, told HKFP that authorities should come up with more than one solution for the relocation of all rural industries.
Chan Kim-ching said the government does not really understand the requirements of rural industries and has not conducted any specific studies on their function in society. “It’s hard for a soy sauce factory to run in a building…they have to dry out [the soy beans] in the sun,” he says.
Meanwhile, these rural industries lack representation, “orphaning them from rural developments”, according to Chan Kim-ching.
“[The government] wants to solve the problem only with money, but the amount offered might not be enough for the factories to relocate their machines. In a way, [the government] tells society that they must be eliminated,” he added.
It was up to the authorities to organize the relocation of relevant industries, Chan Kim-ching said, adding that the reason they were occupying farmland in the New Territories was due to the government’s “planning mistakes over the past 30 to 50 last years”. who, according to him, lack vision on the provision of land for logistics or industrial activities.
“I’m just saying that if you’re developing on land that’s already in use, you need to reinstall those users. This is a very basic request,” he added.
According to the town planning department study in the brownfields liberated in 2019, there were 59 existing rural industries occupying 23 hectares of land.
Chan Kim-ching said it would not be difficult for the government to allocate 23 hectares of other brownfields or build an industrial zone to house these manufacturers.