by Max Brantley
It's official, an Arkansas institution, Yarnell's Ice Cream in Searcy, abruptly went out of business with notice to employees beginning at 2 a.m. this morning. That puts 200 people out of work and means the end of an iconic brand popular at every crossroads of Arkansas. It means jobs losses in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, but most in Searcy. The company history begins with Yarnell family purchase of a small ice cream maker, Dairyland, in 1932.
SEARCY, ARK. (June 30, 2011) — 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.
UPDATE: Here's the federally required notice to workers of the mass layoff notice that went to 149 employees at Yarnell's in Searcy. The notice indicates that many lost jobs without 60 days notice (those won't be staying on for shutdown tasks) and the federal law can provide for 60 days of pay in such cases. I inquired whether my understanding about WARN notices was correct on potential penalties and also about rumors in the Searcy area that Blue Bell might be circling for an asset purchase of some sort. The company said through a spokesman that it wouldn't be commenting beyond official releases.
Here's a more personal farewell on the company's Facebook page.
Note that Yarnell's said in a 2007 Times article that 50 percent of their work was contract work for other labels. It's unclear how well that work had held up in recent times.
This is terrible news. Angel Food Vanilla was the best ever. The seasonal peppermint was nonpareil. Its history was rich.
Twitter caught fire early morning with repeat posts of a report on KATV's Daybreak show that family-owned Yarnell's would be closing.
And there was this on Wikipedia:
Yarnell's shut down it's facilities on June 30, 2011. They gave no warning to their employees and told them about it as they were coming in for their shifts. They cited the reason as "not being able to afford utilities."
No answer at company phones indicated that the reports were true.
City officials scrambled this morning to pin down the news, given a lack of prior notice, but quickly found employees who'd received pink slips.
Yarnell's reps were just by the Arkansas Times promoting a new flavor for summer.