The final part of this three-part article takes a closer look at alternative ice melt products.

In addition to shortages that are caused by rough winters, the supply of ice melt is impacted by demand for calcium, a common ingredient in more than just ice melt. For instance, calcium is used in the fracking industry, which is willing to pay higher prices for the commodity. The market for magnesium, another common ice melt ingredient, also tightened recently due to workers striking on the Dead Sea.

“Just based on the fact that people couldn’t get product last year, they will be in a feeding frenzy this year,” says Schneider.

These types of pressures should cause distributors to explore ice melt that contains alternative ingredients and blends.

“Look to the blends, because you reduce the amount of product that is required,” says Ross, who notes that some of the blends on the market may even provide a lower price point than traditional products.

But, distributors should understand exactly what they are buying and what it is capable of actually accomplishing. For example, blended ice melt products that contain 96 percent salt and 4 percent calcium will not work in 20 degree below Fahrenheit.

Although products that contain calcium typically work well during extremely cold weather, they are not necessary to deal with typical snowfalls and freezing temperatures, says Wice. Plenty of other ice melt products are available that are effective and do not contain calcium. Distributors should make it a priority to educate their sales forces as to what alternatives are available and make a concerted effort to get those products in front of clients, even those who are die-hard calcium ice melt users.

Jan/San distributors that deal in the ice melt market also feel pressure during cold and snowy winters from environmentally conscious clients that manage LEED-certified facilities. When there is a shortage of ice melt, these facilities can have an especially hard time locating the required environmentally friendly ice melt products.

If distributors can’t secure a green product, they can work with their clients that manage LEED-certified facilities to ensure that they are correctly applying the ice melt, says Greg MacDonnell, general manager, Occidental Chemical Corporation, Ludington, Michigan. 

“Proper use of deicers allows users to minimize environmental impact without sacrificing the superior deicing performance they need to melt ice quickly, efficiently and economically under all conditions,” he says.

Distributors should either create or find educational and training materials for LEED-certified facility managers to better understand how to correctly use their ice melt products and deal with icy conditions around their buildings, says MacDonnell.

Another key is for distributors and their environmentally conscious clients to fully understand what their ice melt products are capable of and what ingredients are in the product.

“We often see companies resisting users’ requests for this information on the basis that it is proprietary,” says MacDonnell. “Users should be very skeptical of any supplier taking this position.”

Jan/san distributors can also look at products that are not on the mass market but are being used to melt ice. For example, Schoenberg Salt sells a lot of a sodium formate-based product that is used on airport runways because it is friendly on the environment, including wetlands, and will not damage airplanes.

Whatever route a distributor takes to address shortages, the best approach is to find the comfortable place between buying early, but not buying too much.

Brendan O’Brien is a freelancer based in Greenfield, Wisconsin. He is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.