The New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association
The New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association

1971 - 1990

Sunshine Ice Cream
- a wartime success

Nelson has a reputation as New Zealand’s sunshine city, and it was also the home for some years to the Sunshine Ice Cream Factory, owned by Ralph and Irene Thomas. Their son, Roger, now lives in Stoke and has clear memories of his parents’ ice cream factory and shop.

The original Sunshine Ice Cream shop was on Trafalgar St, where Hallensteins now stands. It started as a fruit and vegetable shop but in 1936 the shop was split in half, to make space for a new milk bar in part of the premises.

The milk bar was such a success that after 12 months the fruit shop was redundant and the milk bar, ice cream and confectionary shop took over the whole site.
"It was probably the biggest confectionary retailer until Woolworths came along and took away that part of the business," said Roger.

To start with, Ralph Thomas had the Nelson District Agency for Tip Top Ice Cream, but in 1941 he decided he could do better himself, and built a small ice cream factory at the back of the shop.


                 Photo: Sunshine Milk Bar and ice cream factory, 1941. Proprietor Ralph Thomas at rear in
                 factory.
                 
- The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 154357/6
                 - Permission of the Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson, N.Z., must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The churn that mixed the ingredients was behind a glass wall and visible to customers, which gave an added interest. Real fruit ice cream was made with pineapple pulp from Queensland that arrived in jerry cans, black passion fruit from Katikati and local Nelson berries.

The refrigeration machinery was supplied by H W Clarke from Wellington (agents for Westinghouse), and Roger went in 1942 to be an apprentice to Clarkes. He worked for them for six or seven years and installed about a dozen supercold ice cream plants in the Wellington region - which included the top of the south.

Sunshine Ice Cream was distributed to other outlets from the Nelson factory. By the end of 1942 business was going so well that the Thomas family leased part of a new building in Buxton Square and built a bigger factory, increasing production to supply Westport, Murchison, Wakefield and Brightwater.

There was, of course, a war on, so butter, sugar and cream - the main ingredients - were rationed.

"The mix changed according to what was available," said Roger. The butter used was unsalted, and the main ingredients were full cream milk powder, butter or cream, golden syrup and honey. Nelson Dairies controlled the supply of cream and the manager of the time, Charlie Ruffle, sometimes had a surplus so the factory would stop whatever other mix they were doing to use up the excess while it was fresh.

"Because of the uncertainty of supply we had to have double the refrigeration space so that we could cope with a sudden flush of cream," said Roger, who installed and maintained the machinery for his father.

The ice cream making process followed a basic recipe. First the cream was pasteurised, then aged for 48 hours, then churned at 36 deg, at which stage the fruit was added. The mixture came out of the churn for two to three hours in a semi whipped state, and then went into the blast freezer for five to six hours. "The timing was critical," said Roger, and there were usually three staff members working in the factory at any one time to keep an eye on things.


                 Photo: Sunshine Milk Bar and ice cream factory, 1941 (detail). L-R: Elsie Hutson and Irene
                 Thomas.
                 
- The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 154357/6
                 - Permission of the Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson, N.Z., must be obtained before any re-use of this image.


Roger continued working for H W Clarke, and remembers building a mini ice cream factory in their Wellington workshop that went with the American forces to Guadalcanal in 1943.
" We built it in a frame so it could be transported, and it was amazing how, despite the war being, on we were able to get hold of all the components with no trouble," said Roger. Another similar machine went to New Caledonia around the same time.

Roger left H W Clarke to come home and work for his parents in 1947, assisting in the milk bar and factory and offering a refrigeration service in the district. In 1950 Roger left to pursue his own sporting goods business and his mother put the milk bar up for sale in 1952.

Tip Top bought out the ice cream business in 1954 and had a factory for a while on Waimea Road, behind what is now the Night Owl dairy.


- Thanks to the Tasman District Council for permission to reproduce this article which originally appeared in the April 2008 edition of their publication, "Mudcakes & Roses".




Other references and related sites:

Longwhitekid - history of Peter Pan, Tip Top, Meadow Gold, Wall's, Hokey Pokey, and much more:
http://longwhitekid.wordpress.com



BackBack to Ice Cream Brands from the Past.

Ralph Thomas


Photo: Sunshine Milk Bar and ice cream factory, 1941 (detail). Proprietor Ralph Thomas at rear in factory.
- The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 154357/6
- Permission of the Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson, N.Z., must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

In 1936, the same year that it opened, Thomas's Sunshine Milk Bar acquired the Tip Top agency for Nelson Districts.

It is possible that it was the business opportunity of Tip Top's rapidly expanding milk bar franchise business that attracted Ralph and Irene to the new venture - the Wellington Tip Top Milk Bars were already a runaway success.

The remarkable similarity in appearance to some of the Wellington establishments (note light fittings over mirrored panels) suggests that Tip Top offered a standard, proven fit-out to prospective agents.

This would have significantly reduced the risk associated with the new investment.

We don't know whether Sunshine was originally supplied with Tip Top ice cream mix or whether they made it themselves under license, but by 1941, Ralph had decided that he could make his own ice cream under his own brand.

The business flourished, but by 1952 Irene put the milk bar up for sale, and Tip Top bought out the ice cream business in 1954.

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