UPDATE: Yarnell's Premium Ice Cream Closes, Leaves 200 Jobless

by Lance Turner  on Thursday, Jun. 30, 2011 11:32 am  

Yarnell's Premium Ice Cream of Searcy confirms it has ceased operations, leaving 200 employees out of a job.

Family patriarch Ray Yarnell bought the bankrupt company he worked for, then known as Southwest Dairy Products, in 1932 near the height of the Depression in Arkansas, using between $5,000 and $25,000 borrowed from his wife's side of the family.

Albert Yarnell Sr. returned from World War II and began expanding the company, overseing the company's first major plant expansion in 1951. The expansion allowed the company to sell throughout central and south Arkansas.

In 1974, Albert Yarnell Sr. became president after his father's death. Under his leadership, the company developed health-conscious ice cream offerings.

Albert Yarnell Sr. is now the company's chairman emeritus. CEO Christina Yarnell is one of his granddaughters.

Members of the Yarnell family have had legal disputes in recent years, including a lawsuit filed in 2008 by Albert Yarnell Sr.'s daughter, Melissa, against her brother, company president Albert Rogers Yarnell II. The lawsuit was settled in December.

ArkansasBusiness.com will update this story.

News Release

Yarnell's Premium Ice Cream ceased operations today after the Board of Directors voted yesterday to end production indefinitely. The privately owned company, headquartered in Searcy, Ark., told its approximately 200 employees today that they would be paid through every day worked but not beyond that.

"This has been an extremely tough year for the ice cream industry in general, and particularly to regional, independent manufacturers like ourselves," said Christina Yarnell, chief executive officer of Yarnell's. "We have examined many possible avenues to keep the company afloat - actively marketing the company to investors and strategic buyers - the majority of whom are undergoing the same financial distress we are. However, we've been unable to obtain additional financing from our lenders or locate a buyer, and have come to the difficult decision that the appropriate course of action is to shut our doors."

Approximately 75 percent of Yarnell's employees work at the Searcy headquarters, with the rest of the employee base located throughout the state and in Tennessee and Mississippi. A small team will remain working for the company to finalize operations, with completion expected by Aug. 27.

"Yarnell's has been an Arkansas staple for more than 75 years, and it's been a family business that started with my great-grandfather, Ray, and has involved four generations of the Yarnell family. Ceasing operations is heartbreaking because we have prided ourselves on keeping our roots in Arkansas, particularly Searcy.

"We are truly thankful for our amazing employees and the heart and soul that they have put into the past successes of this company. They are great people. And I can't say enough about our customers and their loyalty to Yarnell's. It's been a pleasure creating the highest quality ice cream that they can be proud to serve to their families and friends. I, personally, will miss hearing their wonderful feedback and encouraging comments."

Sales of ice cream and related products have steadily declined over the past five years across the United States. In order to compensate for declining sales, the larger manufacturers continue to jockey for retailers' shelf space through price competition. This, along with steadily increasing commodity prices (cream, sugar, fuel, etc.), has resulted in significant financial damage to regional ice cream manufacturers such as Yarnell's.


In 2007, Arkansas Business wrote about the company's 75th anniversary.



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