Those wonderful ice creams (2): Frigo

Coming from Cuba, the Rimblas family laid the foundations of what would be the first and largest ice cream company in Spain in the 1930s

lived happily oblivious to the fact that the most outstanding companies of the national ice cream parlor had been absorbed by multinational groups. Miko, Camy and Avidesa had already fallen into the great Nestlé networks, but it was in that summer of 98 when we discovered that nothing would ever be the way it was: the mythical brand Frigo had changed its classic logo for the Unilever symbol, a decaffeinated heart. The ice cream posters, previously so easy to distinguish from a towel located 50 meters away – so you could go wondering what ice cream you would have next – suddenly became confused with each other.

Now you had to get closer and almost literally stick your nose to the poster, because the density of options per square meter of cardboard had increased so that it was not easy to know if the ice cream you were looking for had it or not. The most expensive, novel or exotic appeared in the upper part of the poster, while the basic ice creams occupied the lower strip. The bar in my town had to be a loyal customer of Frigo, because my childhood sighs have always opted for that brand and I remember perfectly what the poster was like –something yellowed by the sun– and in what order their products were listed. Down with the Popeyes, the Minimilk, the Dracula, or Captain Cola, polo shirts that cost about 25 or 30 pesetas. In the upper echelon were the stick ice creams with more sophisticated shapes or chocolate wrappers, such as the Frigodedo, the Frigopié, the very blue Frigurón, the Bombón, the Superchoc or the Twister. Looking up a little higher, you could see the Calippos, the Brazil Cup, the cone ice creams such as Negrito and back in 1991 a tremendous novelty was included, such as the Magnum.

Although at the time we complained a lot about the change of logo imposed by Unilever, the truth is that Frigo’s most remembered inventions were born after this Anglo-Dutch multinational became a majority shareholder of the company in 1973. The Dracula came on the market in 1977 and the Frigodedo in 1980, 1983 witnessed the appearance of the pinkish and delicious Frigopié and 1984 witnessed the birth of the Calippo, Even later came the Twister (1986), the Frac (1989), the most missed and cried Boomy (1991) or the Cobi in the shape of an Olympic mascot and that obviously was sold as hotcakes in the summer of ’92.

These masterpieces of ice cream innovation had little to do with the simple products with which what was the germ of Frigo began, a modest factory opened in Barcelona in the late 1920s by a Spanish-Cuban family. The Rimblas brothers Rimblas (Juan, José and Esteban) were born in Holguín, Cuba, into a community made up of Catalan merchants. His father, Juan Rimblas Cusachs, was originally from Mataró but had come to the Caribbean island as a military man. There he married a Cuban relative, Catalina Rimblas Batista, and ended up dedicating himself to the sugar and lumber industry. After the independence of Cuba the Rimblas moved to Catalonia although they continued, like good Indians, maintaining strong business ties with America and traveling there regularly. It was probably in Cuba where the young Rimblas met a new invention that emerged in the United States in 1923, the “popsicle” or pole of flavors.

An old Frigo sign (above). On the left, an advertisement for a fridge from 1954; on the right a more recent poster of Frigo. / DiarioSur / Todocoleccion / Europeana

Back in Spain they got fully into the ice cream business and in 1930 José Rimblas records
so much the Frigo brand such as various introductory patents for processes invented abroad and with which fruit juices were frozen, frozen creams made from condensed milk were prepared or sweets and ice creams with chocolate wrap were made. At the same time, Industrias Frigoríficas SA was born, a company dedicated to industrial refrigeration and which would associate with Productos Frigo to put ice at the service of food. From his factory would come yogurts, dairy desserts, puddings, smoothies, frozen cakes and family-size short bars as well as individual ice creams. The subsidiary Ilsa Frigo SA, created in 1952 in Madrid and responsible for both the production of ice cream and the management of several ice cream parlors-cafeterias with direct sale to the public, would pay special attention to the latter. In addition to the Negrito and Popeye, existing since 1944, Frigo triumphed at that time thanks to ice creams with an Anglo-Saxon style and name, such as the Big Treat (a biscuit sandwich) or the Cream-Sicle, a creamy ice cream that came in packs of two, to share, and that would end up being the direct antecedent of the Minimilk.

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