Ice Cream Month Starts with a Meltdown in the Mid-South

In the ag community, I have gotten used to seeing what month it is. There is usually a food group that gets some extra notice in a given month. It’s no surprise with the heat of July, that ice cream is due a celebration this month. I even stocked up before July hit so I’d be sure to be able to celebrate.

Last summer I did a series of food polls and the poll on ice cream really got people excited. I did that during National Dairy Month and found out a lot of folks enjoyed brands of ice cream I was unfamiliar with. And some of the brands I love here in Memphis, well, I had to explain a bit to people in another area. But before I even opened a pint of homemade vanilla, news broke that Yarnell’s Ice Cream, a Mid-South regional company, would be closing its door. In fact, they closed the day before National Ice Cream Month started. I saw the TV report here in Memphis but I think the KATV team out of Little Rock had the inside track. See Yarnell’s has been headquartered in the smalltown of Searcy, Arkansas since it began in the depression. There is something unique about it because it served a small geography.

The company began with Ray Yarnell – Christina Yarnell’s great-grandfather – and his wife and son counting themselves among the 13 employees that ran operations and made deliveries in four trucks. Its first trucks were refrigerated with ice and salt, and the company’s first electrically refrigerated truck was purchased in 1938.

Most of the ice cream first produced by Yarnell’s was sold to drug stores that sold ice cream soda or cream sandwiches.

“Ceasing operations is heartbreaking because we have prided ourselves on keeping our roots in Arkansas, particularly Searcy,” Christina Yarnell said.

Yarnell Ice Cream Arkansas flavorsThe company even touted its local roots with its Arkansas-centric flavors. They included University of Arkansas Razorback themed offerings such as “Woo Pig Chewy” and “Hog Wild for Cookie Dough.” In 2005, the company named its mint-chip ice cream for then-Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Hucka, Hucka Burnin’ Love.”

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, who represented Searcy as a state senator, said the governor was saddened by the news of Yarnell’s closing. At its 75th anniversary celebration, Beebe reminisced about drinking vanilla milkshakes with Yarnell’s ice cream at a corner drug store when he was a child.

via Ark. ice cream co. closing, lays off 200 workers – Forbes.com.

Social Media Reactions to Company Closing

So as employees of Yarnell’s in Searcy, Arkansas and other towns try to understand what’s happened and what comes next. My heart goes out to them. I’m willing to bet that some families likely worked here for generations — just like the Yarnell’s themselves. The current CEO, Christina Yarnell, posted a message to the company’s website and the Facebook page. The reactions expressed on the company’s social media are intriguing. I’d group them into a few categories:

  • People who want to offer moral support to the Yarnell’s employees losing their jobs.
  • Really bitter people who either lost their job as the company closed, lost it previously or have someone they know impacted directly.
  • People who have been fans of the products Yarnell’s produced and are sad to see it close.
  • Fans of the products who are hopeful some change can still come.

Having gone through company cutbacks before, I wonder if the reactions I’ve seen posted to the page are different than other company’s have experienced which were publicly traded. For a family-owned business, dealing with significant economic issues does optimism have a different impact on how you communicate the economics at foot? I mean the SEC reporting structure makes it clear when a corporation is very structured and disclosures of various types must be made. Of course, all of this is from an uninformed outsiders viewpoint.

The fact that the dairy industry has had such troubling times on the farm, makes me wonder if we should expect anything different of other steps in the food chain. With the small market Yarnell’s served, their costs were likely different than the national and global brands. the news reports I’ve seen said the Yarnell family sought a number of solutions, including looking for buyers. That didn’t happen though. And I have to wonder whether other local & regional ice cream companies are feeling the same economic pinch. With the push for local food, do people take time to learn about local dairies and local suppliers of dairy products or do people continue to buy Ben & Jerry’s ice cream & Kraft cheeses? For me, its a combination of buying local/regional and other larger brands. And I had to wonder to myself whether I would have mad a different choice at the dairy case last week if I thought making purchases of the other regional brand (Blue Bell that started in Texas).

Is this an Outlier? Or a Sign of More to Come?

I find it strange that local businesses like Yarnell’s that offer a premium product are having such a tough time in the economy when it seems like eating local is all the rage. But with the dire straits that the dairy industry has been facing (need I remind you of New Year’s & moo?), maybe the dairy industry is being hurt in particular. I mean if dairy farmers are having a really tough time of it, do we all expect the companies that deliver the dairy products to us to be immune?

All of this is so depressing that I feel like drowning my sorrows in a tub of death by chocolate ice cream…. I wonder if I can still find any.

Doing Your Part

By the way, the NPR article says Americans eat an average of 20 quarts of ice cream each year which makes us the world’s biggest consumers of the icy treat. Do you think you meet the average or do you come in above or below it? I think I may need to step it up. Am sure some of my dairy farming friends could produce extra milk on their farms if we need it!

Learning More About Dairy

I have to admit that I don’t know much about ice cream companies. Don’t know people who do, but I know a lot of people who know a lot about dairy. And quite a few are nice enough to routine share their knowledge through blogging. You can check out some of the dairy farm blogs I read (and I’m sure I miss a lot more so if you have a dairy farm blog, please speak up) at:

  • Dairy Discovery — I met these Michigan dairy farmers in Atlanta during the Farm Bureau meeting. Jerry & Annie are enthusiastic about agriculture and took full advantage of meeting other people and working through some of the blogging info. By the way, this may have one of the coolest photos as the header I’ve seen.
  • Dairy Goddess’s Blog — If you want to know about dairy farming from a great source, check out what Barbara’s been up to! She’s either out walking the barn taking care of Chica and others, making cheese or something fun!
  • Dairy Innovation — Ashley Messing is a dairy farm girl from the thumb of Michigan. She’s got a great combination of stories about life on the farm, things she’s come across through studies or work, etc. You really should read this one!
  • The Durrer Family – Our Life on a Real California Dairy Farm — I got lucky and Ellen connected with me through Facebook mutual friends! She’s got a great combination of stories and photos with young kids in central CA.
  • Ray-Lin Dairy – If I had a brother who was a dairy farmer in California, I’m guessing it would be Ray. He rocks.
  • The Dairy Mom — Dairy farming in northeast Ohio is a celebration of family for this dairy mom.
  • The Dairyman’s Blog – Will Gilmer of Gilmer Dairy in Sulligent, Alabama puts together thoughts about the farm and agriculture.
  • Truth or Dairy is by Carla & Kris who describe themselves as having recently chucked the corporate life for life on the farm. While the blog is relatively new, it’s clear they are happy with their decision.
  • The Weiss Centennial Farm is in Frankenmuth, MI, a town I’d never even heard of til a friend asked me to go to a regional dairy leadership conference there recently! They do a great job telling their story whether it is about the daily ins & outs of the dairy farm or their trip through ice in Atlanta.
  • Zweber Family Farm News – Emily and Tim Zweber write about their farm and the area that it supplies fresh food & dairy to around Minneapolis.

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

, , , , ,

5 Responses to Ice Cream Month Starts with a Meltdown in the Mid-South

  1. Ryan Goodman July 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I love(d?) Yarnell’s ice cream. As a kid my family raised cattle on the original Yarnell dairy farm after it was purchased. The plant was in town and we even took a field trip when I was in the 3rd grade and got to taste test every flavor. It was awesome. Yarnell’s did a great job of being a part of Arkansas with the Razorback influenced flavors and supporting statewide events. My favorite was Woo Pig Chewy and I had my last bowl this last weekend. Savored every bite.

    I have known several employees over the years and it is sad to see them lose their jobs. You bring an interesting point about eating local. If we’re up on it so big, you’d think a regional flavor like Yarnell’s would be doing better than the competition. Now the news here is about how this will affect the State’s dairy industry.

    • JPlovesCOTTON July 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      Wow. What a connection! I hope something turns around and another buyer produces our favorite flavors as well as Christy’s ice cream sandwiches.

  2. Christy July 7, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    Noooooo, JP! I need to lie down. I’ve not heard about this. It might have helped if I had been given a 6-month warning or something. I have some Yarnell’s ice cream sandwiches (is there any other worthy brand?) in the freezer right now…guess I’ll be rationing those out in 1 inch cubes until they are no more. This just all-around stinks. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any intelligent response to your blog at this time.

    But…I will say this regarding your inquiry about local dairies and suppliers. Quite honestly, I do not know of any local dairy suppliers in my area other than Denton’s. Of course, I grew up drinking their milk, chocolate milk and still do. It’s not a matter of searching it out, it’s what’s readily available and what’s affordable. No, I don’t know where Great Value milk comes from (Good Lord, I hope a cow!) or what’s in it, but Walmart is always stocked to sell it at about $3+ a ga in comparison to Denton’s $4+. I’d pay either to keep from having to go out and milk Bertha in frigid temperatures myself though! Go Dairy!

    • JPlovesCOTTON July 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

      Sorry to be the one who breaks that bad news to you. :( I hear there are people considering a purchase of it. Join the hopeful crowd.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Photo Friday: Ice Cream Month « Agriculture Proud - July 8, 2011

    […] Person brought up a good point in her blog about the ice cream. With such a push for local foods, why would a regional food company be […]

What are you thinking?