La Michoacana: a success story of frozen flavors since the 1940's

21/02/2021

Preferred with mango in the north and mamey, sapote, and banana in the south, La Michoacana ice creams, and popsicles, present in all the states of the country since the 1940s, have become a gastronomic tradition and an icon of national identity. When walking through any part of Mexico City or any other state, we are sure to come across some of them.

La Michoacana is a phenomenon worthy of study because of the different aspects that characterize it, from the empirical organization to the cooperation networks that the owners have woven, it can be said to be a company of unequaled success in the country.

This story begins in the 1940s when Rafael Malfavón, known in his town as "Garrapatillo", opened the first paleteria in Tocumbo, Michoacán. He offered employment to local acquaintances, who sold the paletas in a wooden crate to the surrounding rancherías.

Ignacio Alcázar, an employee of the business, migrated one day to Guadalajara in search of better luck and sometime later arrived in Mexico City, where he opened his first paletería. Very soon, the candies were to the taste of young children and adults, so that the business, based on common sense and daily effort, emerged as a success story.

As references to establish the business, and generate high sales, Ignacio took places of high concentration such as schools, churches, and parks. To the surprise of the new merchant, the establishment began to report profits, and, forced by the excess of work, he called his brother Luis and his friend Agustin Andrade, to help him expand the business.

It was Luis Alcázar who formally began the expansion of branches and invited family members and fellow countrymen to join the company, first as employees to whom, later, the ice cream parlors were sold at affordable prices, in interest-free payments and word-of-mouth contracts.

Thus began in the sixties the boom of these stores with the first generation of workers and owners, until the seventies, when they consolidated as the largest chain in the country in their line of business, occupying territory in Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Puebla, among others.

After years of success, difficult times came when they faced the crisis of the eighties. Faced with this collapse, the owners had to redouble their efforts and, contrary to what many would think, they opened more branches.

In this process, for every paleteria the owners had, they opened four more to obtain the same profits as before, which resulted in unprecedented expansionism, an event that generated jobs and the need to hire workers from different states and not only from Tocumbo.

Capital loans to open branches to acquaintances, friends, and relatives, was a practice that ended when Luis Alcazar was murdered in his home, apparently by a debtor. In the second generation of owners, the ties of cooperation among the tocumbeños were lost to a great extent, a matter that to date is trying to be recovered.

It is also this generation that is more concerned about the image of their products and establishments, so they coined the pink doll as the distinctive symbol. Its printed packaging, the renovation, and adaptation of stores, as well as the greater variety of flavors, are some of the evolutions that the brand has undergone.

The diversification of its ice creams depends on the places where they are sold, for example, in the north of the country, mango stands out due to its high demand, while in the south, the preferences are for mamey, sapote, and banana. Similarly, prices vary in each area.

But its reach is not limited to Mexican territory, the presence of La Michoacana's frozen flavors have more than 20 years of melting the palates of North Americans; in the United States, the entities with the highest concentration of Mexicans currently have these businesses. Nations such as Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama also enjoy these products and there are plans for them to reach countries in the old continent in the near future.

The paleterías La Michoacana have become an icon of national identity. There is an anecdote about a group of people who landed, after a helicopter flight, on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, without knowing which country they were in, so thanks to a paleteria of the brand, they corroborated that they were on Mexican soil.

By Mexicanist, Source: INAH