September 30, 2021
Our past and our future
Statistics show that 30% of small businesses in Canada close by their fifth year; we will be starting our fifth year next month.
As we plan for our future, we have been reflecting on the lessons learned from our past four years. We have been through a lot during this time: We opened our store on the first day of winter instead of the first day of spring as we had intended and saw just how dead an ice cream shop can be during a cold snap; we lived the reality of how traffic is impacted when someone decides to tear down the little building next door and build a huge apartment building in its place; and perhaps most challenging, we had to figure out how to survive a global pandemic that kept our doors closed in the spring right when we need to open to recover from winter losses.
In all these cases the solution was simple but not easy – stay focused on producing innovative, high-quality products and find creative ways to get our products to people who appreciate them and our way of doing things. We have learned that many Manitobans are interested in supporting local producers and that if we stay true to our values and create paths for people to support us, people will walk down them.
Here is what we have been up to:
Pivot Product: Cheese
Joseph put all his deep dairy expertise and creativity to work and figured out that we could produce cheese with the equipment we have. We now make Firm and Soft Feta, Ricotta, Mascarpone, and Labneh as often as we make ice cream. And just like our ice cream, we use lots of Manitoba milk in the process. This helps balance our revenue year-round.
Scale Up Safety: Plant Certification
Our plant and procedures are now fully certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We took the time to document our procedures and submit to regular testing of all our products for food safety to make sure we have the safest product possible and to be able to ship across Canada. It is mostly our cheese that’s making its way to other provinces, highlighting Manitoba-made varieties using Manitoba milk. We never imagined this could be achieved when we opened our little Winnipeg ice cream shop!
Enhance the Experience: Flavour Selector Software
The main way we survived the pandemic was by creating the Chaeban Ice Cream Club, a monthly subscription that brings pints right to customer’s doors. It was a huge hit, and we are ever so grateful for those who jumped on board. However, the reality of running the club long-term is that we needed to make the member experience continuously better. To do this, we hired two amazing developers to enhance how club members, and those giving gift subscriptions, interacted with our club platform. The most recent improvement allows members to easily access the full inventory of ice cream at the start of each month, including the latest feature flavours. Club members now get first access to everything with just a few clicks. Next up, improvements to managing the delivery day.
Do More Than Dairy: Vegan Creations
We have learned that interest and demand for dairy alternatives is very high. When we opened our store we had one flavour of vegan “ice cream,” Glen Coconut. It was and still is very popular. Now we make six regular non-dairy creations and usually have at least one feature flavour as well. In fact, one-third of our in-store business is now non-dairy. We continue to invest in learning how to work with a wider array of non-dairy ingredients. While we love working with dairy products, we respect those with dietary sensitivities or have concerns about animal welfare or the environmental impact of the dairy industry. We keep an open mind about these issues and continue to listen and learn from interests on both sides. We have a unique place in this discussion understanding how to work with both kinds of ingredients.
Start Getting on Shelves: Wholesale Distribution
Our ice cream and cheese is now available in many stores thanks to the wholesalers and retailers that have shown interest in our products. This is perhaps the single biggest shift we have done to secure our future. We began as a store that made our products in the back. Now we’re a local manufacturer that has a store in the front.
After four years we are thankful to still be alive. Our core values of caring for people and the environment, and making things from scratch using as much local as possible, continue to guide how we do things. We have yet to make a serious profit, nor to retire much of our debt, but we feel like we are doing the right things to lead to long-term success. We are working hard to build a sustainable future, five years and beyond, for our local business.
If you would like to support us on our journey, we would love it! Ways you can do it:
- Subscribe to the Ice Cream Club or give a gift subscription to someone you appreciate.
- Visit our store to purchase a scoop, a pint of ice cream, or a container of cheese – or all of these things!
- Purchase our products at the many Winnipeg retail locations. You can find a whole list of them here.
Zainab, Joseph, and Darryl