The Chapman’s Ice Cream Journey

By Barbara Onyskow, Past Chair WFIM

Women in Food Industry Management GALA DEC 5-2013


The evening started with a whole lot of chatter, registrants were checking out the Gala Premier Sponsor tables at CCC and Finlan Food Design.   A bit of sampling and free promo items were snapped up.  Everyone was enjoying networking before the event amongst two 20ft high decorated Christmas trees.

At 176 attendees this December Gala had the most attendees of all WFIM events!   There definitely was a lot of excitement in the room.  Bren de Leuuw – WFIM’s Director of Events, a dairy farmer’s daughter and former “Dairy Queen” from the same region as Chapman’s, was pleased to introduce Ashley Chapman whose family business supports local dairy suppliers.

Ashley started his introduction by saying he was surprised when HR told him he was invited to speak at a Women in Food Industry Management event.  He thought, “Crap, they probably think I am a woman as my name is Ashley”.  The story he told showcased the family’s entrepreneurial spirit and how they supported the community, customers, and suppliers.  It was truly heartwarming to hear of their humble beginnings and how they grew their business to be the largest Canadian Independent Ice Cream Manufacturer in 1985.  As a baby, Ashley’s room was above the engine room which provided some issues once he was older trying to stay awake when his old room became the production meeting room.

Some anecdotal stories of his Dad setting up a shooting range on top of their factory lead to a humorous story of his dad sliding down the stairs in his underwear then holding robbers with his revolver until the police arrived.

Despite the “big boys” foray into the world of frozen desserts, after the repeal of the Edible Oils Act in 2005, the Chapmans refused to join ranks, and made a commitment to use 100% Canadian Dairy to make their ice cream. Their family feels very strongly about supporting the local economy and providing a quality product, which we got to sample at dessert, courtesy of Chapman’s.

The fire at the Chapman factory in 2009 devastated over 35 years of hard work yet they didn’t despair and throw in the towel, after the town ran out of water, and all was lost including back-up tapes for formulas, invoices for customers and suppliers.   Fortunately, their long term employees knew their mixes by heart, and all their recipes were transcribed.  In three days, they were up and running to sell $12-13 million in inventory.  Unfortunately, their local customers, worried about future stock of Chapman’s ice-cream, emptied their warehouse within a few weeks.

A flyer arrived at their door offering a “fire sale” in Florida of a 4 year old factory with equipment necessary for production. Gay Lea and Parmalat were commissioned to make their mixes until they could bring to life their new plant, “Phoenix”.  Fortunately, they had business interruption insurance to cover all extraordinary expenses for one year.  This afforded them to keep operational using co-packers.  They went from 85,000 to 165,000 sq ft in less than 18 months.  Both parents run the business 50-50 with Dad taking care of operations and his Mom handling Marketing and Sales.  Their combined forces helped them to build their dream plant.

Ashley relayed in particular how his sweet natured Mom, Penny, has a reputation of being a smart, self-taught, don’t mess with her kind of woman and if “Mama ain’t happy, no one is happy!”  Today Chapman’s employs over 400 people, of which more than 40 % are women.  They also have a strong female leadership team:  50% of all supervisors, 50% lead-hands and all of HR are women.  The only areas primarily male dominated is maintenance and delivery drivers.  Everyone knows that if you don’t respect women at Chapman’s then Mom will “eat you alive”.

Ashley’s personal and touching account of salvation and recovery of this iconic Canadian brand was truly remarkable.