Cuba’s ‘Ordering Task’ Triples the Price of Milk and Cheese in Sancti Spiritus

All dairy products, including cream cheese, natural yogurt and soy yogurt, have also increased in price in Sancti Spíritus. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2022 — The price of fresh cheese, or frescal, as they call it in Sancti Spíritus, has increased three or four times since November, and that of ice cream has doubled. People are very upset, according to an article in the Escambray newspaper on Tuesday, asking those responsible for the industry what has turned the product into a kind of white gold, as the report calls it.

However, the answers found do not seem very satisfactory, since Ariel Fernández Martín, director of the Business Group for Commerce and Gastronomy in Sancti Spíritus, because the repercussions of the increase in demand are relative, as Coppelia continues to sell ice cream scoops, even if they are at 7 pesos.

“We are sure that it is a preferred food for the preparation of dishes or snacks, but the rise in price also affects gastronomic services, since now a pizza can cost 40 pesos or more and the demand decreases,” says the official, speaking of both fresh and liquid. “However, in the case of ice cream, although the population complains, acceptance is maintained and everything offered for sale is bought.”

Fernández Martín admits that there are many reproaches regarding the quantity, which in the opinion of people from Sancti Spiritus has been significantly reduced despite the fact that the price is skyrocketing. But this is not related, he maintains, to prices or the scarcity of the product, but rather to the refrigeration capacity.

“Dairy has difficulties with the initial chilling that must be given to this product. When it arrives at Coppelia our refrigerators are being maintained, so we have had to sell it in containers, without table service, almost wholesale, so that it sells quickly. Only what they bring from the Trinidad factory is arriving with the required level of cold,” he says.

For the rest, dairy products are doing great, according to his testimony: cream cheese, natural yogurt and soy yogurt have also increased in price, up to double, and that has not stopped them from selling. “This is also affected by the fact that they are sold in small sizes and that the price increase was twice its initial value,” he says as an advantage, probably because the rest of the increases are much worse.

Fernández Martín explains that the current price of frescal is 187 pesos per pound in the Ideal markets, very high, he admits, because production is more expensive than usual.

In the informal market, a pound of fresh cheese, known as “queso de guajiros” (farmers’ cheese) is sold for over 300 pesos.

The demand for imported cheeses, such as gouda, has also made prices shoot up, for a product which, at the moment, is only sold in stores in foreign currency or through on-line sites used by people abroad to purchase products for their families and friends in Cuba. A block of a little more than three kilograms of German or Dutch gouda exceeds 3,000 pesos on the informal market.

Rolando Contreras Sosa, general director of the Río Zaza Dairy Products Company of Sancti Spíritus, justifies the price increase through the increases in the payments to the producers. In the month of December, and with the application of the measures of the Tarea Ordenamiento (Ordering Task)*, he explains, a liter of milk began to sell for 20 pesos, compared to the 7.50 it had sold for in 2021.

The increase responded to the complaints of the producers, who have seen how absolutely everything necessary for the manufacture of cheese rose. In addition, the industry suffers from the same ills, from water and diesel to workers’ wages or imported raw materials, which have become more expensive.

“We must bear in mind that to obtain a pound of cheese in the industry, six liters of milk are used, if collateral expenses are added to this, then the cost of a pound is around 134 pesos, to which we only add the 10% of the value,” he details. That 10% is the maximum allowed for profits. The rest, says the official, is for the State Empresa de Comercio (Trade Company), in taxes.

The argument is refuted by a reader who comments on Escambray’s article and says he has consulted with other producers from different countries in areas with similar temperatures. “Everyone without exception says they get a pound of cheese with less than 4 liters of cow’s milk. Either the factory you run is extremely inefficient, or you don’t adjust to reality,” he snaps.

The company insists that it contains the price as much as possible and that it will do so more when circumstances allow it, something that seems very far from being achieved with the 70% inflation that weighs on the country.

Contreras Sosa adds that the prices in the province are higher than those of others in its environment for reasons attributable to manufacturing, such as the use of diesel boilers instead of fuel oil ones — which are cheaper — or the long journeys that must be made . “[It depends] on the type of technology used and let’s remember that ours is very obsolete and consumes a lot of energy. Only in the La Sierpe industry is cheese made at a low cost, because it is practically made by hand,” he alleges.

Most of the comments that the note has garnered are critical of the explanations. Some ask that wages rise to the level of rich countries, since the price of cheese is comparable. Others demand the rapid intervention of politicians or demand that milk be used for children and the elderly instead of wasting it on a product that may not have outlets due to its high price. A self-employed worker alleges that six inspectors visited him to ask him to lower prices and ironically sneered: “Now it’s laughable, coming with this. Wages didn’t go up like that. Cheese from 17 pesos to 187 pesos… I’ll have to go up like this to to be able to give my girls bread for their snack in elementary school. This economy is a disaster.”

“A lack of respect for the working people, that we are already tired of the fact that our wages do not even give us enough to eat decently. The truth is, they have disgraced the country with all this rearrangement. No change they make has benefited the people,” says another reader indignant. Although Escambray ends the text with a nice poem, the population does not seem to be joking.

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 


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