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

1971 - 1990

Snowflake



The Norton family, dairy farmers near Greymouth, established The Riversdale Dairy in 1922, servicing Greymouth and surrounding districts with their milk and dairy products, delivered by horse and cart.

It was very much a family business. Laurence Norton, his wife Irene, his brother Wallace, his father Frederick and Mother Edith, and Irene's brother Arthur Carson, were all involved in the early years.

The business was run from a small factory/shop in front of the Norton house in Ward Street, Cobden:


                         Photo: Riversdale Dairy depot, Ward St., ca. 1922.
                         - Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.


                         Photo: Mrs & Mr Billy McNaughton with Model T Ford delivery van in front of the Riversdale
                         Dairy depot, Ward St., Cobden, ca. 1922. Note milk can in the back.

                         - Owen Norton collection.

Around the middle of the decade, they began producing ice cream under the Snowflake brand.

Demand was so great that in 1928 a new, larger factory was built on Taylorville Road, Coal Creek:


Photo: New Riversdale Dairy - Snowflake factory, Taylorville Rd., with staff and delivery vehicles, 1928.
People, left to right: Arthur Carson (standing near Guy Snow Flake truck), Frederick Norton; Laurence Norton; Irene Norton; Miss [..?] Horan; Jack Horan; Billy McNaughton.
- Owen Norton collection.



                         Photo: Frederick Norton with horse-drawn Riversdale Dairy - Snowflake delivery van,
                         ca. 1928.

                         - Owen Norton collection.


                         Photo: People eat Snowflake icecream in front of the Snowflake Riverdale Dairy Supplies
                         Guy truck, at the 1930 Greymouth A&P Show.
                         Still from newsreel film, "The Greymouth Gazette", by L. Inkster, 1930.
                         - Nga Taonga Sound & Vision.

The refrigeration system was ammonia, and two of the original storage freezers used pumice as insulation, 8 - 10 inches thick in the walls. Before the advent of refrigerated trucks, ice cream was distributed in 2 1/2 gallon bulk cans (for scooping) as far as Westport and Hokitika, packed in insulated canvas bags.

Apart from cans, Snowflake produced Sixpenny Blocks, Choc Bombs,and Sixpenny Tubs.

Later, as home refrigerators became more common, Snowflake produced take-home Pints (round cardboard packs, then later rectangular).

After the deaths of Laurence Norton and his brother Wallace (both within 12 months), Laurence's father Frederick Norton, a baker, and brother-in-law Arthur Carson took over the dairy farm, milk and ice cream operations.

Frederick's wife Edith was also involved in running the dairy farm, along with Warren Barlow.

Laurence's son (Frederick's grandson) Owen Norton joined the business in 1946, at age 15, starting as he says "at the bottom", cleaning milk cans, cleaning stables and looking after the roundsmens' horses.


                 Snowflake cinema advertising (glass slide), 1940s
                
 
- West Coast New Zealand History.


In 1947 the Riversdale milk treatment business was split off and the operation was moved to Greymouth, leaving the Coal Creek factory manufacturing Snowflake ice cream only.

Snowflake bought their first refrigerated trucks second-hand from the Perfection Ice Cream Co., Christchurch, in the early 1950s.



                         Photo: Snowflake ice cream factory interior, ca. 1950. Right to left: homogeniser, holding
                         vat with cooler above, churn (beyond vat.) At left: hand pump used for filling Sixpenny
                         Bricks (packaging loaded on trolley). Pumice-lined storage freezer at rear left.

                         - Owen Norton collection.


                         Photo: Snowflake Ice Cream Factory, 1953. Left to right: Frederick Norton, Percy East,
                         Daphne Skeets, Ken Horton, unknown, Owen Norton

                         - Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.


                         Photo: Snowflake Ice Cream truck dressed for the Royal Visit, 1953.
                         - Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.


Owen took over the business in 1955, after his grandfather died.

Not long after, Tip Top began distributing on the West Coast, opening up the market, which had until then been shared between Snowflake and Apex (Christchurch).

Snowflake liked to have a bit of fun with their marketing, and in 1955, following news of a discovery on the West Coast, it advertised Uranium Ice Cream:

Snowflake Uranium Ice Cream                                                 Snowflake Uranium Ice Cream advertisement, Grey River Argus,
                                                 23 November 1955
                                                 
- Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Listen to Owen explain the story on Radio NZ National programme.

Other cheeky marketing moves included thumbing their noses at market leader Tip Top with the launch of stick novelties called the "PP2", and "Poppa".

Ice blocks and other stick novelties were made in moulds frozen in a brine tank. Snowflake manufactured Joy Bars for a while, six inch bars of chocolate-coated ice cream with a raspberry strip through the centre, very popular, but the cost of production was quite high so they didn't last.


                         Snowflake truck, 1954 Bedford, late 1950s?
                         - Owen Norton collection.


From the late '50s, Snowflake became West Coast distributor for Birdseye Frozen Foods (Unilever), and later Supreme Frozen Products (Timaru).


                 Snowflake Ice Cream display, Industries Fair, Greymouth, 1964.
                 - L. Inkster.



                 Snowflake Chippy Pot advertising, early 1960s?
                 - Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.



                                                  Snowflake Raspberry Sundae advertisement, early 1960s.
                                                  
- Owen Norton collection.


                                                  Snowflake Raspberry Sundae lid, undated.
                                                  
- Steve Williams.



                 Snowflake Christmas deliveries, 1970s
                 - Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.


When Unilever launched its own Wall's brand of ice cream in the 60s, Snowflake distributed Wall's ice cream and frozen novelties as well as their own brand.

At its peak, Snowflake was sold over the whole of the South Island, and into parts of the North Island.

Snowflake had long been a member of the Canterbury-West Coast branch of the NZ Ice Cream Manufacturers' Association (NZICMA). Owen Norton had been attending conferences since 1950. and held the office of President from 1972-1977. Together with Bob Fyfe of Tip Top, he played an important role in helping the NZICMA survive at a time when membership was down and industry unity was weakened.

Through his long-time involvement with the NZICMA, and other business activities, Owen maintained good personal and business relationships with most of the other ice cream manufacturers around the country. These were strengthened when Westland Snowflake hosted the annual NZICMA Conference in Greymouth in 1987.


                                                  Snowflake original artwork, 1990s.
                                                  
- Owen Norton collection.



                                                  Snowflake Vanilla 2 litre label, 1990s.
                                                  
- Owen Norton collection, via Shona McCahon.


Other ice cream brands manufactured by Snowflake over the years included Bluebell (a budget brand), Quality Inn, and premium brand, Queen Anne. They also produced house brand ice cream for supermarket chain Countdown.

Snowflake purchased the rights to the iconic Queen Anne Ice Cream brand some time after Queen Anne closed down their ice cream business in 1976. Snowflake continued selling Queen Anne "Natural Premium Ice Cream" for several years:

                                                      Header from Queen Anne Ice Cream flavour list, ca., 1995?.
                                                      
- Owen Norton collection.

In 1986, the Snowflake factory caught fire and was seriously damaged after being struck by lightning. Much of the factory and equipment had to be re-built, and months of production was lost.


                 Snowflake factory, ca. 1995
                 - Owen Norton collection.

Owen Norton sold the ice cream business assets of Westland Snowflake Limited to Development West Coast (DWC) in 2008 - the new company was called West Coast Snowflake.

The business continued under the new management for two more years, in an effort to keep this important regional brand alive, but the competitive retail environment proved too much, and Snowflake finally closed its doors in 2010.

- Special thanks to Owen Norton for permission to reproduce the photos in this article from his collection.




Other references and related sites:

Kete West Coast
http://ketewestcoast.peoplesnetworknz.info/en/site/audio/show/4-owen-norton-talking-about-uranium-flavoured-snowflake-ice-cream-in-the-1950s

Nga Taonga Sound & Vision

Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand digitised newspapers database):
http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/

New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers' Association (NZICMA) Oral History Project; held at NZICMA archives and Alexander Turnbull Library.
- Shona McCahon, Oral historian.

West Coast New Zealand History
www.westcoast.recollect.co.nz


BackBack to Ice Cream Brands from the Past.

Snowflake




The Snowflake brand is a part of the history of the West Coast.


Girl eating Snowflake icecream, 1928.
Still from newsreel film, "A Sporting Topical", by L. Inkster, 1928.
- Nga Taonga Sound & Vision.

Some of Westland Snowflake Ice Cream Ltd's unique achievements as an ice cream business include:

- The longest continuous operation (82 years).

- Ownership and management remained in three generations of the Norton family for 80 years.

- The last ice cream business to source milk from its own cows - Snowflake ran a dairy herd up until the 1970s.


Snowflake Ice Cream: More than a Treat - A Food. Snowflake Sixpenny Block.


There was another strong family element to the Snowflake business.

Warren Barlow worked for the business for 50 years, on the dairy farm, as farm manager in later years; his son Kevin Barlow worked for the company for 35 years, as Factory Manager, and two of Kevin's sons, Warren and Patrick Barlow, also worked there!


Warren Barlow (left) and Kevin Barlow (right) receive recognition for their long and valued service to Snowflake at the 1987 NZICMA Conference held in Greymouth (Owen Norton centre).


Snowflake Ice Cream seller, 1970s.



                         Owen Norton
               - Photo: Shona McCahon, 2011.

Owen Norton was born into the family ice cream business, Westland Snowflake Ice Cream Ltd, in Greymouth, and was working in it from the age of 15. He later managed Snowflake, which became one of the country's longest continuously operating ice cream companies, serving the Coast and well beyond for over 80 years.

Owen worked continuously for the NZ Ice Cream Manufacturers' Association for over 30 years, maintained strong relationships with other manufacturers, and was a very valuable ally of the industry. At one stage, when the Association was in peril of dissolving, Owen, together with Bob Fyfe, was responsible for ensuring the Association continued to exist. Owen was President of the Association from 1972-1977.

Owen was made a Life Member of the Association in 1992.


Help Us Tell the Story



If you can fill in any gaps in our history of Westland Snowflake Ice Cream, please drop us a line:

info@nzicecream.org.nz

Copyright © The New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association (Inc.)
PO Box 9364, Wellington,
NEW ZEALAND.
Telephone +64 4 385 1410.
E-mail: info@nzicecream.org.nz
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