Yarnell's: 75 Years And Going Strong (Fifth Monday)

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 30, 2007 12:00 am  

Some of the faces behind Yarnell's, the 75-year-old ice cream company based in Searcy.

The Depression years of the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s were lean, but the company survived, and in 1948, his military service complete and his degree in hand, Albert Yarnell joined the firm full time.

"One reason for the fact that we've been able to stay 75 years is that my father put all the profit that he made back into expanding the business," Albert says. "During our lifetime we've put all the profits that we've made into the business and put all the energy that we had. Now I don't put all my energy because after about half a day my energy begins to wane." But he's only half joking. It's clear he's still a force to contend with.

Changing With the Times

Yarnell's divides its business into two parts, its direct store delivery (DSD) network and its custom manufacturing.

As part of the DSD network, Yarnell's makes and delivers its own brand, and it partners with Nestle, one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world. Under Nestle are Haagen-Dazs and Edy's ice cream, along with some other partner brands.

In custom manufacturing, Yarnell's makes ice cream and frozen novelties for other companies according to their specifications, though the Searcy firm is contractually prohibited from identifying those other companies. Christina Yarnell, however, says, "We do produce for some of the largest food companies in the world."

Although Christina is treasurer, that describes only a third of her duties. She's also responsible for operations and logistics, and she heads new product development.

Yarnell's has been involved in custom manufacturing for 20 years, but Christina says, "We really have started recognizing it as a larger part of our business 10 years ago, and I'd probably say that in the past three or four years it's really a growing part of our business." Rogers adds that "both parts of our business are growing."

"The ice cream and frozen treat industry is dominated by two multinational companies," Rogers says. "One of those is Nestle, which we have a close strategic relationship with. The other is Unilever. So total market share in the U.S. is concentrated among these two brands. We are in a mature industry that is consolidating. As Unilever and Nestle more and more have captive plants, the opportunities to ramp up the custom manufacturing side of our business appear bright. And that is why the part of the business that Christina is managing is thriving well."

Through its adaptability -- and a strict attention to the bottom line -- Yarnell Ice Cream Co. has bucked the trend of the death of the non-giant companies.

"There are less than a dozen companies like us that still exist, which we would define as a mega-regional company," he says.

Rogers Yarnell, as do his father and daughter, cite hard work, humility, the state of Arkansas and a few other factors for the company's success, but in conversation with the three generations, what becomes clear is an absolute refusal to fail.



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