When Ashley Chapman was crafting a fairy tale-themed marketing campaign for Chapman’s first line of kids’ ice cream, he turned to an expert: his four-year-old daughter.
“It started with me writing a story about the two Chapman’s kids getting stuck in another world,” recalls Chapman, who’s VP of the family business his parents founded in Markdale, Ont., a hamlet just south of Owen Sound. “I vetted it with my four-year-old to get the important touch points like ‘she needs to wear pink daddy,’ And ‘where are the unicorns, daddy?’”
Chapman’s, which bills itself as Canada’s largest independent ice cream producer, started in 1973 with two trucks and four plant employees in an old creamery. Its logo of two animated kids roughly represents Ashley and his sister, Frances, now a university professor.
The story Ashley Chapman wrote was not only a way to bring a focus back on the kids, but promote its fairy tale-inspired ice cream flavours such as princess potion and novelties including red dragon lollies. TV ads that came out earlier this year feature “Chapmania,” a make-believe land with princesses, dragons, wizards and a hermit who helps the kids to make a potion. Viewers may recognize the man behind the costume: Chapman has long starred in the company’s commercials, giving the business homegrown appeal.
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The family starred in their first commercial in 2009, after a fire destroyed the plant. “The message was, ‘we’re here, we’re rebuilding, and we’re coming back’,” says Chapman.
Many consumers think the company is a large multinational, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. “We’re Canadian owned and operated, and we consider ourselves the little guy,”
Aside from marketing, Chapman has his hands in many other sides of the business, from operations to sales to product development. The company launches 16 to 20 new products each year.
Chapman’s is known for its interesting flavours and new products, and was a pioneer in offering peanut-free, no sugar added lactose-free and gluten-free treats. It was also the first manufacturer in North America to release a line of organic ice cream, which Chapman admits failed dismally. “We were too far ahead of the curve,” he says. “If we had released it 10 years forward, it would have been a resounding success, but timing is everything.”
While Chapman’s tries to steer clear of relaunching failed products, it recently made an exception. “We did spumoni about 20 years ago, and it was a horrible failure, but we tried a new flavour profile in R&D, and it was good, so we thought we’d give it a shot again,” he says.
Though Chapman grew up in the family business, he didn’t always know he’d work for the company. “There are too many questions in life to say ‘this is my path’,” says Chapman, who studied English literature at university and later attended culinary school in France.
When his parents asked him to consider joining the company in 2008, the decision was easy. At the time, Chapman owned a restaurant and nightclub in Peterborough, Ont. “We were three years into it, and I just had enough of the bar scene,” he says. “My mother called me—I was having a particularly bad day at work—and she said, ‘if you’re going to come home and run the family business, you should probably make a decision now.’ And I said ‘I’ll be home in a couple of months.’ ”
Chapman, again, says timing was everything. “If I had joined the company right after high school or university, I think I would have failed at it. Taking on something like this, you have to be ready for it.”This article appears in the October/November 2016 issue of Canadian Grocer