SIDON, Lebanon: Fifty-two years ago Hajj Nazih Nawwam started building a factory to manufacture a seasonal product that continues to cool the tongues and warm the hearts of Lebanese citizens half a century later.
On a hot summers’ day, Nawwam’s ice pops, which he branded “Hadaya” meaning “gifts,” remain in high demand, and his chosen logo, a small boy carrying an ice pop with a smile on his face, is familiar across generations.
Nawwam’s eldest son, Mohammad, now runs the business alongside his small family, but apart from that little has changed over the years.
“I’ve been here since I was a young boy ... and the factory today is just as it was before,” he says.
He adds that few improvements have been made to the manufacturing plant, and that the work is still done manually as it was five decades ago.
The Nawwams’ factory is located inside the old city in Haret al-Kanaan, and shop owners head directly to their premises to replenish their ice pop stocks during the summer months.
“We work four months a year, from May through August,” Mohammad says. “During the month of September, we carry out whatever maintenance works are needed on the freezers and equipment in the factory.”
“The highest demand [for ice pops] is during the summer months, obviously,” he adds, but speculates that “perhaps during autumn we could produce and sell, but I’m certain that most children would get the flu.”
The factory produces between 5,000 and 6,000 ice pops daily, of different colors and flavors.
Mohammad explains the different stages of the production process.
“We use the same recipe we’ve been using for five decades,” he says. “We use water, sugar, flavors and natural coloring that’s internationally certified.
“First we mix the ingredients with one another. Then we put the liquid in stainless steel molds. Each tray is divided to fit 30 ice pops.
“The molds are refrigerated at 30 degrees below zero so that the freezing process can start. Workers insert the wooden sticks before the liquid is completely frozen.
“The ice pop is then manually covered in its signature packaging and sold,” Mohammed concludes.
“Most of what my factory produces is sold immediately,” he says, adding: “Our flavors are loved by young and old. We have berry flavors, lemon, orange, chocolate, milk and pistachio.”
He discloses that while most of the ice pops he produces retail at LL250, the factory sells the cold treats to stores for LL180.
Some flavors are a little pricier. “The chocolate and milk ice pops we sell to the shops for LL550 and they sell them to customers for LL750, which is half a dollar,” Mohammad explains.
Over the years, Hadaya ice pops have remained leaders in their field, although this hasn’t been for lack of competitors entering the ring.
“For dozens of years many out there have tried to imitate our ice pops, but all were exhausted trying,” Mohammad says. “There are many factories that make ice pops that have not been able to survive with the constant increase of prices in the country, but we have remained.
“Our factory also was not affected by the Syrian ice cream that was brought into the country, despite it being sold at lower prices,” he adds.
Nawwam recalls that three decades ago, “street vendors used to come to our factory and we would sell them wooden boxes of ice pops. These vendors would tour narrow neighborhoods, sports playgrounds and cinemas to sell the product ... We later replaced the wooden box with one made of cork, but then the Civil War came and all of that disappeared.”
“Back then even housewives used to offer the ice pops to visitors,” he recalls, adding that kiosks in schools and on the streets would also sell the product.
Of course Nawwam refuses to part with the full ice pop recipe – after all, it is the secret of the product’s success.