Ice companies existed in North America long before the introduction of modern refrigeration. Ice was cut in large blocks from nearby rivers or lakes in the winter and stored in huge buildings, or icehouses, that were usually insulated with sawdust. In the warm summer months, the blocks of ice were then removed as required, and delivered by the “Iceman”, whose wagon was a common sight on the streets of cities and towns everywhere. The ice provided limited, but essential, refrigeration for the growing numbers and varieties of perishable goods that were destined for the marketplace.
With the invention of modern refrigeration, the old way of “harvesting” ice disappeared. The end of an era from one ice industry, led the way to the beginning of another: The Packaged Ice Industry. From very small beginnings, the packaged ice industry grew quickly with consumer demands. The increasing trend towards drinking cooled or chilled beverages, which at one time was unheard of, firmly established the “bag of ice” as a food product that is readily available today in almost every grocery and convenience food outlet in Canada and the United States.
Today the packaged ice industry operates as a fragmented industry. It is estimated that the North American packaged ice industry is comprised of over 2,000 companies, most of which are small, independent, family-owned businesses operating in local markets.