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

1971 - 1990


Supreme Ice Cream advertisement, 23 December 1935
- Timaru Herald.

On the 22nd of September 1916 the Le Grand Lounge, Bar and Tea Rooms was opened by a Mr C A B Carpenter at 302 Stafford Street, Timaru. It featured a Silver Cascade Soda Fountain which incorporated an ice cream freezer. Ice cream featured on the menu, including Strawberry Ice Cream “made from an original Italian recipe”.

After a couple of changes of ownership and a fire, the business re-opened as the Le Grand Lounge in September 1925, under the ownership of Mr F H and Mrs E Saunders. In November 1929, Le Grand Lounge Co. launched “Supreme” brand ice cream, produced in it’s own factory in Cannon (Canon) St, just around the corner.

Unfortunately the business got into financial difficulties about 18 months later. The ice cream operation was purchased by H T (Tom) Dunn and his wife Dorothy, Clandeboye dairy farmers who had also owned and operated a local fresh milk bottling and delivery business at Washdyke since 1927.

The Supreme Ice Cream Company was registered on 1 August 1931, with Tom Dunn, Thomas Irwin and Saunders as shareholders, although Dunn bought the other two out after about 12 months.

At that time, ice cream production was shut down over winter, ending on the 30th of April and re-commencing in September. Each year Supreme would advertise and celebrate an "Opening Day" to the new "ice cream season".

                                      Supreme Ice Cream advertisement, 16 December 1931.
- Timaru Herald.

The company grew, taking on four new milk runs. Eventually, around 1933, they purchased the Mt. Cook Cone Company factory, next door to the Cannon Street factory and on the corner of Sophia Street, and converted it to milk and ice cream production.

Tom Dunn Snr took a short course on milk processing and marketing at Massey Agricultural College, helping him to set up a modern pasteurising and bottling plant. The Labour government introduced the Milk In Schools scheme in 1935 and in 1937 the company submitted a tender of 1/7 per gallon for the contract for the daily delivery of half pint bottles of milk to every school in south Canterbury. They were successful and on 1 May that year changed the company name to Supreme Dairies.

By then it was becoming too difficult to run the expanding business in Timaru and maintain the farm as well, so the family moved to Timaru. All of the Dunns' five sons, Tom Jr, Harold, Lloyd, Murray and Max were involved in the business at different times, working after high school in various aspects of ice cream, frozen food, refrigeration and milk processing.

By 1941 Supreme Dairies was advertising Ice Cream Sandwiches and Ice Cream Bombs as well as 6d and 1/- Blocks.

                                      Supreme Dairies advertisement, 16 December 1941.
- Christchurch Press.

In 1942 oldest son Tom Jr joined the Royal New Zealand Navy, later transferring to the Fleet Air Arm and serving in the Indian Ocean as a fighter pilot. It was during pilot training in the U.S. that he met Peggy Thompson and they were married in 1945 in Detroit.

Harold also joined the RNZN, then the Royal Navy, serving on a monitor in the Mediterranean.

After the war Tom Jr brought his new American bride back to Timaru and the family business. After a year they moved to America where Tom worked in several ice cream companies, eventually becoming Plant Supervisor (Ice Cream Division) at Southland Corporation, Houston, Texas.

Harold also returned after the war and married Joan Cornish in Adelaide in 1950. He worked in the ice cream side of the business from 1946, focussing on production and product development.

Third son Lloyd married Helen Marshall in Timaru in 1953 and also joined the business, initially in the office and later in the frozen foods operation.

Fourth son Murray was involved in distribution, setting up sales agencies and depots as the business grew. He married Pamela Mitchell in Timaru in 1956 - Pamela had worked in the Supreme office for some years.

Fifth son Max married June Girvan in 1962 in Timaru and was involved in the refrigeration engineering side of the business.

In 1947 the government nationalised the town milk supply industry, leaving Supreme with just its ice cream operation.

In 1949 Tom and Dorothy Dunn travelled to the US, visiting Tom Jr and family in Detroit and investigating other frozen food technologies. On his return he experimented with blast freezing peas and the company purchased an acre of land at the south end of King Street in Timaru and built a processing plant. Lloyd was involved in the planting and harvesting of peas and other crops.

In 1950 the company name changed to Supreme Frozen Products and a new operation was established, pioneering frozen free-flow peas in New Zealand. At the time, vegetables were typically frozen using Jackstone Froster plate freezers and sold in solid blocks, so the 'free-flow' concept revolutionised the industry. Supreme brand frozen vegetables were sold nationally.

Supreme Frozen Products, Sophia Street, Timaru
- Dunn family.

Supreme Frozen Products truck, early 1950s
- Dunn family.

Doug Haigh joined the company as engineer around 1955 and youngest Dunn son Max served his refrigeration engineering apprenticeship under him.

From an initial production of 2 1/2 tons of frozen peas in 1950, by 1956 the company was producing 700 tons annually, as well as beans, mixed vegetables, dessert raspberries and strawberries.

In 1957, the frozen foods business was taken over by Fropax (N.Z.) Ltd (part of the UK-based Vestey group). Fropax continued to operate the plant for several years, producing under their own brand and leaving Supreme to once again focus on ice cream.

Supreme Frozen Products factory and trucks, Sophia Street, Timaru
- Dunn family.

             Supreme Ice Cream fruited ice cream carton, 1 pint, circa 1960.

In March 1961 Supreme opened branches in Dunedin and Invercargill and son Lloyd and wife Helen moved to Dunedin to manage the fast-growing Otago-Southland business.

In 1962 General Foods Corporation (Tip Top) made an offer for the Supreme ice cream business and took it over on 1 February 1963. At that point, Tom Dunn Sr retired from the business and the Supreme brand was discontinued.

Although the Supreme era was over, the Dunn family continued to play a role in the ice cream industry for many years. Son Harold stayed on to manage the Timaru operation (now Tip Top) until 1967 when he was transferred to Dunedin to manage Tip Top's Otago-Southland operation. Lloyd and Max also continued to work for the Dunedin Tip Top and General Foods refrigeration businesses after the takeover, Max later moving to GF refrigeration's Christchurch operation.

Dorothy Dunn with sons (L-R) Murray, Harold, Lloyd and Max. Family reunion, 1992.
- Dunn family.

- Thanks to Max Dunn and the Dunn family.

- Reference: 1992 article by Doug Drake, Timaru Herald.

BackBack to Ice Cream Brands from the Past.

Tom & Dorothy Dunn

Tom and Dorothy Dunn in later years.
- Dunn family.

Tom and Dorothy both grew up in Dunedin and married in 1922. They bought a small dairy farm in Clandeboye, South Canterbury and became heavily involved in the local community.

Four sons were born there; Tom, Harold, Lloyd and Murray were all born in Temuka. Max was born after the family moved into Timaru.

Tom Sr, an Elder in the Presbyterian Church, served as a Session Clerk in the Orari Parish, while Dorothy became the first President of the Clandeboye branch of the Women's Division of Federated Farmers.

In 1927, when times were particularly tough on the farm, the Dunns bought a town milk delivery business from the McGillivray family in Washdyke. Tom Sr's day would begin at 2:30am, taking milk at first by horse and dray and later in his Dodge truck for house-to-house delivery around Timaru and later for bottling at the McGillivray plant at Washdyke, 20 miles away, while Dorothy rose at 4:30am to do the morning milking single-handed!

In 1930 a small Timaru ice cream company got into financial difficulties, leaving a debt for milk and cream supplied by Tom Dunn. The Dunns decided to take it over and the Supreme Ice Cream Company was registered in August 1931.

Both milk and ice cream businesses were successful and in 1937 the family moved off the farm and into Timaru.

All of the Dunns' five sons, Tom Jr, Harold, Lloyd, Murray and Max were involved in the business at different times as they left school, initially in milk and ice cream manufacturing, sales and distribution, then later on in vegetable growing and harvesting, frozen foods processing, management, sales and distribution, and refrigeration engineering.

The Supreme businesses were a great success and the brand grew to national prominence, a wonderful testament to the hard work of Tom and Dorothy and their five sons.

Tom was a man of strong Christian principles and took his community responsibilities seriously. He was an executive member of the NZ Milk Marketing Board and the Canterbury & West Coast Ice Cream Manufacturers' Assn, and a member of the South Canterbury Manufacturers' Assn and the Employers' Assn. He was a member of Rotary for many years, was involved in local Boy's Brigade, including a term as National President. He was a very active member and Elder of St Paul's Presbyterian Church, serving as Session Clerk for 17 years.

Dorothy was also a woman of strong Christian faith, involved in her church and study groups. She was closely involved in missionary activities with the Sudan Interior Mission and spent some time with son Murray and his wife Pam when they were working as missionaries in Nigeria in the 1960s.

Tom retired in 1963 when General Foods Corporation took over the ice cream business.

Help Us Tell the Story

- Dunn family.

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

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