By Robert Mackenzie
Published Aug. 17 2017
Faced with summer temperatures that can climb to more than 50 degrees Saudi Arabians could be choosing Ontario’s Kawartha Dairy ice cream as their method to beat the heat.
In January 2016 the Bobcaygeon-based Kawartha Dairy sent a 20-foot container filled with more than 3000 cartons of ice cream to the Middle East in their second ever shipment to Saudi Arabia
Shaun Dunn director of sales and marketing at Kawartha Dairy says that the dairy was first approached by GTA export company Interspan Canada about selling their ice cream in Saudi Arabia about five years ago.
Apart from this deal Kawartha Dairy doesn’t sell its ice cream outside of Ontario. But Dunn says the two shipments made so far to Saudi Arabia hasn’t effected the company’s normal operations as Interspan deals with the overseas logistics.
“It’s just shipping to one distributor. All the marketing and all of the efforts to market it in that region are done by [Interspan]” Dunn said
“It doesn’t interfere with anything here. [Kawartha Dairy] ship to Toronto [where Interspan] does the export stuff.”
Kawartha Dairy first opened in Bobcaygeon Ont. in 1937 under the ownership of Jack and Ila Crowe and began selling ice cream in 1957.
In the early ’60s the dairy opened its first ice cream bar at its Minden location which is now a feature in each of the company’s other eight other locations all within Ontario.
In 2016 Canada exported more than 18600 kg of ice cream to Saudi Arabia. Kawartha Dairy’s latest shipment which contained 4700 kg of ice cream would make up more than a quarter of that total.
While Kawartha Dairy is well known to many Ontario cottagers their brand is much smaller than other Canadian ice cream producers. But Jim Robinson president of Interspan Canada has had a family cottage in Haliburton since 1964 so when he was approached by his colleagues about an ice cream to export to Saudi Arabia he recommended Kawartha Dairy based on his personal preference.
Robinson said that while other Canadian companies had been approached with the opportunity Kawartha Dairy’s energy and interest were key to successfully organizing the export.
“It took a long time but Kawartha never really gave up” he said. “Shaun Dunn was critical because of his enthusiasm … Not every Canadian company is interested in doing something like that.”
Kawartha Dairy will have to compete for business against giant international ice cream brands such as Haagen-Dazs and Baskin Robbins in the country. Currently the Middle East is one of the top 10 consumers of Haagen-Dazs around the world. Baskin Robbins is also popular in the region and has more than 500 store locations in Saudi Arabia alone according to a company spokesperson.
Robinson said that Kawartha Dairy ice cream is being marketed in Saudi Arabia as a premium-quality product made with real cream and sugar compared to powders. Although Robinson estimates the cost of the ice cream in Saudi Arabia to be about double what it is in Canada he believes its quality will help it stand out.
“As the retail population becomes more familiar with the product we’re expecting just like in our region the popularity of Kawartha to increase against the presence of many many international brands” he said.
It’s been more than a year since Kawartha Dairy’s last export to Saudi Arabia but talks between the dairy and Interspan have started again and Robinson said he expects another shipment to be sent overseas by the end of September.
In May 2015 Kawartha Dairy made their first export to Saudi Arabia with a shipment of almost 2500 cartons of ice cream. The dairy’s January 2016 shipment sent 3255 total cartons of ice cream 1.5 L and 11 L in size. The shipment contained most of the 42 flavours that Kawartha Dairy offers including everything from Moose Tracks to Muskoka Mocha.
The January export was sent to Jeddah a city of more than three million people on Saudi Arabia’s western coast and has been sold in the nearby cities of Mecca and Yanbu as well.
“It’s a little surprising” Dunn admits when asked what he thinks about the Ontario company shipping their product all the way to Saudi Arabia. “I wasn’t expecting it but they eat ice cream just like we do.”