1. Sidewinder Dry Ice & Gas (Pty) Ltd was the first producer of dry ice pellets in South Africa. What were the first applications for the dry ice pellets?
When we first investigated our local market in 1997 there was only one supplier of dry ice in the Western Cape. This supplier could only produce large blocks which were of poor quality with a soft spongey inside. Dry ice production was not the company’s core business, so service and availability of product was problematic for customers who required dry ice. Orders had to be placed several days beforehand and the order process was difficult and unreliable. There was no option to have the ice delivered, so customers had to collect at a large, unhygienic facility in an old industrial area. Food grade certification was not possible, so the dry ice produced at this facility was mainly used by ice cream vendors, and overall dry ice sales in the Western Cape were limited.
After having conducted an extensive review of the local market we saw an opportunity in the Western Cape for a specialized manufacturer of a range of high quality, certified food grade, dry ice products. We discovered that there were potential different markets within our region, and that each market required different forms of dry ice, for different applications.
We had a detailed look at our local wine industry which is over 350 years old and is spread widely across our province. South African wine estates have a long and proud, history of growing fine grapes and producing excellent wines, however our finished product (the wine) was often negatively affected by quality management deficiencies in the wine making process. Probably the biggest area of concern at the time was excessive oxidation of the harvested grapes, followed by excessive oxygen uptake during the grape crushing, juicing, pumping and blending process. Ultimately we came to the conclusion that our grapes were, generally of exceptional quality, our terroir was unique and special, and our local winemakers were extremely talented, but their end product was often affected by issues that could easily be addressed.
Our solution to this problem was to conduct trials with 3 mm dry ice pellets, which had the advantage of being able to rapidly sublimate into a cold dense layer of CO2 gas which would act as a “protective blanket” around the harvested grapes and also in the wine tanks. This CO2 blanket could act to help insulate the grapes, juice and wine from excessive exposure to air - which contains 21 % oxygen - and in doing so help to control and limit oxygen uptake, known in the industry as oxidation. We realized that our application of using the 3 mm dry ice pellets was a practice that could easily become an in-process part of the winemaking process and would not result in much extra effort or expense.
The Western Cape wine industry was our first market for our newly launched products and from there we have grown the business, and worked with our customers to assist them in tailoring an optimal dry ice solution that helps to unlock efficiencies for them and preserve their product quality.
2. Which industry is the largest consumer today and what type or form of dry ice is purchased the most?
The wine industry remains our largest single market entity to this day. Originally the bulk of their dry ice requirement was for 3 mm pellets, but over the past 22 years we have worked with many winemakers, as well as our local academic institutions, to develop other new applications within the wine industry that require our 16mm pellets, our 2.5 kg blocks, and occasionally even our 1 kg slabs.
3.South Africa is famous for excellent wine. Sidewinder Dry Ice & Gas (Pty) Ltd has been the company that pioneered and introduced this product application to the Cape wine industry in 1997. Initially, you supplied just three wine cellars but since then you have grown significantly to supply over 400 wine cellars throughout the region. This is very impressive, please tell us more!
When we first launched our 3 mm dry ice pellets to the wine industry we were met with a certain degree of opposition from the winemakers. Back then, the winemakers were (demographically speaking) older men who had been making wine a certain way for many years and were resistant to change. The fact that South Africa had for years been isolated due to our previous political situation did not help as many of our manufactured goods were not allowed to be exported, due to trade sanctions imposed by other countries. As the global export market opened up to South Africa after the first general election in 1994, South Africans were faced with the reality that, for our products to be sold abroad, we would need to deliver products that were, at least on par, or preferably exceeding the established norm at the time. The wine industry was a perfect illustration of this point.
Fortunately for us, there were three visionary winemakers who realized that for South African wines to be accepted, desired and purchased by overseas customers we needed to “up our game” and embrace new ideas and technologies that could assist in improving the quality, and market perception of South African wine. These three winemakers saw the potential of what our product could help them achieve and they agreed to trial the use of our 3 mm pellets for their 1999 wine harvest. The following year all three wine estates won double gold Veritas awards for their wines.
That was the turning point for our business when suddenly the market realized the potential of what our dry ice products could help them achieve, and the orders started coming in.
4. How many kilos of dry ice do you produce per day?
The market in the Western Cape is highly seasonal, with the summer months from November to the end of April being our busy season. Harvesting of the grapes usually commences close to the beginning of the year – depending on weather conditions. The first 3 months of the year are our busiest and daily production and distribution is usually several tons per day. Winter months, especially June – August are our quietest and daily production is significantly less than our peak summer figures.
As you can imagine, this kind of seasonal variance in demand presents any business with serious challenges. As a result, we have had to learn to adapt and have developed several other businesses and revenue streams (not dry ice related) to assist us during the quiet winter months.
5. With your ASCO dry ice machines you produce different sizes of pellets, but also slices/blocks. These slices/blocks can be wrapped with your ASCO dry ice wrapping machine upon request. Do you supply airlines with these wrapped slices/blocks.
We do supply the airline catering services with our uniquely packaged 1 kg dry ice slabs. When looking at various dry ice equipment manufacturers we realized that we needed equipment that could manufacture a range of dry ice products as our customers had varying needs. Our ASCO BP407 was the perfect machine to allow us to achieve this goal. We also purchased an ASCO APM machine to package our 1 kg slabs as this was an international IATA requirement for the airline catering industry, and we wanted to align our production and supply with the accepted global standard.
6. What are the supplying distances, i.e. how far away do you supply customers with dry ice? Are there also customers outside of South Africa?
We generally have a delivery radius of around 150 km from our production facility. For customers outside this range we work with several specialized logistics companies to deliver our dry ice fresh every day.
7. How do your deliver the dry ice?
We deliver our dry ice in insulated, branded containers which hold up to 30 kg of dry ice pellets, slabs or blocks. For deliveries we have a minimum order of 1 box, i.e. 30 kg. In addition to our 30 kg box we also offer a range of smaller storage boxes which can hold either 15 kg, 8 kg or 4 kg. We can also deliver in bulk, in our specially developed roto-molded insulated bins which can hold up to 240 kg.
Many of our customers collect from our premises, and these customers either supply their own insulated storage boxes, which we fill, or we supply the dry ice in one of our insulated boxes. We sell directly to the public in units of 1 kg. Our attitude is that all customers are important, whether they purchase a ton of dry ice - or just 1kg!
8. The worldwide current Covid-19 situation has changed the behaviour and consumption of companies and private people drastically. What are the experiences in your business?
Like most companies, we have certainly felt the effects of COVID-19 on our business. As a dry ice supplier to several medical facilities and laboratories, our company was deemed to be a supplier of an essential service/product. We were therefore allowed to continue operating during South Africa’s rigorously enforced lockdown period. Most of our customers were however shut, and this has had a rather significant effect on our business.
9. How is Sidewinder Dry Ice & Gas (Pty) Ltd organized?
After 23 years of business, we realize the importance of the “human capital” factor in our company. We strive to provide a world class product, combined with efficient and friendly service. Our company motto is “When it counts, we are there”. To achieve this kind of consistent service is only possible with a committed, dedicated, and motivated team. We have a small, integrated team as our production process is automated - thanks to our ASCO machines. Our team is like a family and we all support each other and recognize that each of us contributes a valuable skill to our customer’s supply chain.
We have a horizontal style management approach with two directors, an administration team based in the office, a production team, and a logistics team that takes care of all daily deliveries and related customer requirements. We have an open-door policy and encourage a constant dialogue between team members to ensure that we stay on top of our game and prioritize our customer’s needs.
10. You have been an appreciated ASCO customer for many years - what do you like about ASCO?
Prior to making the capital investment in our dry ice production equipment we did extensive research into equipment suppliers from the USA, Europe and Asia. Our main priorities were that we wanted modern, efficient, reliable machines from a company that provided excellent after-sales service and spares availability. We also wanted equipment that could produce various forms of dry ice easily and efficiently. After much market research, one company stood head and shoulders above the others - ASCO of Switzerland. To date we have enjoyed a long and successful relationship with ASCO, and we have come to see them as our partner for all of our dry ice manufacturing equipment needs.
Caption: Factory of Sidewinder Dry Ice & Gas (Pty) Ltd
Caption: CO2 storage tanks at Sidewinder Dry Ice & Gas (Pty) Ltd