If you’re an ice cream fan, Mexico is a destination you will love, with an icecream store (paletería) on pretty much every corner selling paletas - popsicles made with fresh fruit, sometimes blended with milk or cream (paletas de leche) and sometimes just with sugar (paletas de agua). We noticed that almost every one was named “La Michoacana,” meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico, which stretches from the Pacific to central Mexico. Although, at first glance, all of the stores appear the same and the name suggests a common origin in the state of Michoacán, the stores are not part of a chain, and were curious as to the origin of the name.
Our guide on our visit to the Monarch sanctuaries and in Pátzcuaro/ Janitzio, a Michoacán native himself, assured us that this was because the state makes the best ice cream in Mexico, and whilst this may be true (indeed, the ice cream we tasted in the main square of Pátzcuaro was out of this world), I made a note to do a little research myself when we returned.
(La Pacanda in the main square in Pátzcuaro is definitely the place to go…)
There is not much in terms of the origin of the name but I did find this article from 2003 in The Austin Chronicle and this article from The Wharton School suggesting a couple of possible stories as to how the name came about and the information that follows is summarised from these sites. The fact that there was not a “Michoacana” website was the first clue to the messy history behind the “brand”.
One version is that in the 1960s, an ice cream maker from Tocumbo, Michoacán, came to work in the United States, seeking a better life, later returning home where he used his savings to launch an ice cream and paleta-making business. A second version suggests that in the 1930s or 40s, Agustín Andrade and Ignacio Alcazar, also natives of Tocumbo, moved to Mexico City, where they worked at a paletería, later launching their own store, La Michoacana. They were said to have brought this business model back to Michoacán, where it was copied by other enterprising ice-cream lovers! Of course, in those days, nobody thought about copyrighting the name, and so now, regardless of the true origin of the name, even the smallest of Mexican towns have one or more “Paletería La Michoacana.”
The Wharton School article goes on to talk about how La Tocumbita S. A., a company based in Tocumbo, Michoacán, attempted to unify La Michoacana’s brand image and product line in the 1990s by developing a franchise for the paleterías; however their attempts to convince independent storeowners to give up control were not successful. The company claims to have developed and trademarked the ubiquitous La Michoacana logo: an indigenous girl dressed in typical clothes holding an ice cream cone with the words “La Michoacana–Es Natural” surrounding her. Variations of the logo (wording, font and image) are also widespread. In response to this, La Tocumbita has simply redefined its own business model, instead focussing on new independent storeowners, offering them a package consisting of a formula for launching a successful store, possibly ensuring more consistency in the “brand” throughout Mexico in the future.
It’s true that looking back on our trip (and out photos), the stores were all so similar, yet they all had their own distinguishing features (design, menu, etc..) – but only when you stop and think about it. At first glance, it really does look like a chain… In any case, this made for some much needed light reading this week as I plow through a paper for grad school.
I’m excited to announce that there will be ice cream coming up on etlw because look what arrived yesterday, courtesy of CSN Stores: