The February 20 presenter for the meeting of the Rotary Club of Heber Springs was Mitch Evans who has been with Yarnell’s Ice Cream for 34 years. Saying that his love of the company comes in great part from the fact that their product “always puts a smile on people’s faces,” Mitch provided a history of Yarnell’s and a look into today’s production and tomorrow’s plans for the company.
Yarnell Ice Cream Company of Searcy, Arkansas traces its roots back to 1932 when Ray Yarnell purchased the assets of Southwest Dairy Products in a bankruptcy sale. Times were tough for Ray, his wife Hallie and their young son Albert during the Great Depression. Drawing no salary while keeping the company going on borrowed funds, Ray survived the Depression and steadily grew the business selling 5 gallon metal cans of ice cream to local drug stores and ice cream parlors.
In the late 1930s, the Yarnells purchased their first electronically refrigerated truck, which greatly expanded their selling territories. Following military service in World War II, Albert rejoined the company in 1948 as sales manager. Recognizing the growing trend in ice cream consumption as more of a “take home” product, Albert focused on growing retail sales. He led a major plant expansion in 1951 and expanded sales through central and south Arkansas.
Following his father Ray’s death in 1974, Albert took over as president. A year later, after his own military career, Albert’s son Rogers re-joined the family business in 1975. Under Albert and Rogers’ leadership the company continued to expand through reinvestment in the
manufacturing, warehousing and delivery operations. Through acquisitions, Yarnell’s became the last Arkansas-based ice cream manufacturer.
Referring to the 1980’s and 90’s as the “golden era” for Yarnell, Mr. Evans said they expanded their distribution territory to Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana. But tougher economic times led several suppliers to declare bankruptcy in the 2000’s and faced with increasing retail price pressures, rising commodity costs and declining sales, Yarnell Ice Cream Company shut its doors on June 30, 2011. This could have been the end of the company, but at a bankruptcy sale on November 30, 2011, Schulze & Burch Biscuit Company, with operations in Chicago, Illinois, and Searcy, Arkansas, purchased Yarnell’s, including its original recipes.
Recognizing the importance of the Yarnell’s brand to Arkansans, Schulze & Burch decided to re-launch the top selling Yarnell’s flavors using the same original formulas in an updated and larger carton. The outpouring of excitement and support for the re-launch exceeded all expectations.
Today, the company serves all of Arkansas, southern Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana and employs 120 people. They create 48 cartons of their famous ice cream every minute using 40,000 gallons of cream delivered four times per week from Highland Dairy. As the only ice cream made in Arkansas, Mr. Evans said, “Yarnell Ice Cream is committed to continuing to make the best product they can make to continue to put smiles on people’s faces well into the future.”
Rotarians are “People of Action” who are making a difference locally, nationally and internationally. The Object of Rotary is "to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise." The Rotary Club of Heber Springs meets each Tuesday at noon on the ASU-Heber Springs Campus. For more information about the Rotary Club of Heber Springs, please visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/TheRotaryClubofHeberSpringsAR.