Apart from the occasional typhoons that bring on gusty weather and flash floods, the Philippines pretty much has hot and humid weather all year-round. Also, since we have arguably one of the most unforgiving summers on this side of the globe, we’ve become pretty adept at coming up with ways to keep cool. And out of all of them, eating ice happens to be a favorite.
Not Your Momma’s Halo-Halo: The Birth and Heyday of Ice Monster
While the Japanese have their kakigori and the Malaysians have their ais kachang, we Filipinos have the halo-halo as our summer staple. Traditionally served in a tall glass, the fuss-free mixture of crushed ice, sweetened banana slices, nata de coco, kaong, and condensed milk occupies a special place in the hearts of many Pinoys.
Thus, it was no surprise when Ice Monster quickly gained a following shortly after it debuted back in 2003. Though its concept was allegedly inspired by the different kinds of ice desserts around Asia, the humble kiosk set out to distinguish itself on the market early on. Apart from having a wide and varied menu of toppings that ranged from the familiar (fresh fruits and cereal) to the decadent (brownie chunks and cookie bits), they were also known for the quality of their ice. Also called “cream ice,” the smooth, almost velvety, and pristinely white mass lined the bases of the distinctly cobalt blue cups and kept customers coming back for more.
The increase in the demand for Ice Monster’s offerings naturally boosted its ubiquitous presence. At its peak, it had about 50 branches in operation, with a good percentage of that number owned by franchisees across the country. And since it was very popular with the hordes of mallrats and moviegoers (as well as the after-school and after-work crowd), a few competitors who sought to imitate the Ice Monster concept also emerged.
From the Dream Ice Kakigori that occasionally graced the chi-chi bazaars in Rockwell to even the limited edition Ice Craze that Jollibee came out with, it seemed that Ice Monster had started a trend that would only grow with time.
But Where is Ice Monster Now?
Fast forward to 2014, and more than ten years after the shaved ice trend first started, Ice Monster is nowhere to be seen. Most of the numbers on the company website are outdated and seem to belong to completely unrelated parties, and the “latest news” portion was last updated more than five years ago. Also, while there are about 16 branches listed on the website, only two remain in operation and they are located in far-flung locations like in Laguna’s Enchanted Kingdom and Boracay. The more popular branches in Robinson’s Ermita, Glorietta Makati, and Shangri-la Mall have also been long gone.
Speculation is rife about what happened to the frozen dessert brand. Most people assumed that it was just another novel food trend that may have peaked too fast and too soon, much like its pearl shake predecessor. Given that the past decade saw a lot of exciting and dynamic food concepts take the stage, it must have been difficult for a one-product brand like Ice Monster to stay on top once the novelty has worn off. Even the most loyal customers tend to move on to the next big thing if you can’t come up with innovations that will keep them coming.
And once the number of daily customers dwindles down significantly, maintaining a certain level of revenue to remain profitable becomes more difficult by the day. After all, renting a stall in establishments like Glorietta and Shangri-la don’t come cheap, and neither do the costs incurred for keeping fruit fresh and keeping ice at an optimum temperature.
Still, while doing research for this article, I managed to get a hold of Mr. Gary Chan, the Officer-in-Charge for Ice Monster—Regaler Foods, Inc., and he mentioned that the brand is in the midst of a rebranding. According to Mr. Chan, they are currently working on revamping Ice Monster’s product concepts as well as its franchise systems, and that they are planning on relaunching the brand soon.
In the meantime, whether or not Ice Monster can still carve out a niche for itself in today’s more dynamic market (if and when it does return) would make for an interesting discussion, perhaps.