AUSSIE icon Dairy Bell will close its factory doors by the end of the month, much to the disappointment of ice-cream lovers and small food retailers alike.
But how could a business fold after 45 years in the game? Were aggressive supermarket wars really to blame or was an outdated brand the cause?
Analysts point to Australia's $822 million ice-cream industry becoming an increasingly competitive market in the past five years.
Whereas once consumers had the choice between home brand, Peters, Streets and Bulla, the average supermarket freezer now includes a tempting array of gourmet options. Celebrity chef Maggie Beer has an epicurean range, there is artisanal ice-cream label Harry's Ice Cream and American favourite Ben & Jerry's.
Though it has a loyal following, Dairy Bell held just a 6 per cent share of Australia's ice-cream market, research firm IBISWorld says.
IBISWorld industry analyst Spencer Little said the ice-creamery had been struggling for the past five years.
"Dairy Bell's revenue has increased over the past five years, but only marginally," he says.
"The company has been unable to benefit from the industry's scoop-and-serve and premium segments."
Intense competition from market leader Peters, which produces the premium Connoisseur ice-creams, and Streets, plus an expanding gourmet range from Coles and Woolworths, had made the going tough for mainstays like Dairy Bell, Little says.
The brand has changed little in its 45 years of trading, instead sticking to its tried and trusted flavours and keeping the old-school ice-cream parlour theme in its stores.
"It's difficult to say whether a rebrand could have made a difference, but focusing on traditional products hasn't been the best option," he says.
Dairy Bell will close its two factories, one in Melbourne and another in Sydney, on February 27 and will shut the doors on its 11 retail sites in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia when stocks run out.
The Melbourne factory site in East Malvern has been sold to business giant Paul Little's development company Little Projects. Dairy Bell management is looking for a buyer for the other factory in Camperdown, New South Wales.
The company's manufacturing equipment, which can make 12 million litres of ice cream an hour, is also for sale.
Dairy Bell management has blamed "supermarket ice-cream wars" and high labour costs for the closure.
Owner Andre Razums, who co-founded the company with John Stanford in 1970, says he has received four serious take-over offers since announcing the closure last month.
Asked if a rebrand could have saved his company, Razums says he doubts it.
"I don't think so. Maybe the new people who take it over might do it," he says.
Razums says Dairy Bell employs 100 staff who, like the company's suppliers, will be paid all their dues.
"I think we've done the right thing," he says.
"We've got to look after our suppliers and staff. We didn't want to run into the situation where we couldn't do that."
It took a year for Razums and management to make the hard call.
"It was a very tough decision, but we felt that the time had come," he says.
"Business has been good all along. We've never been in the situation where business had been bad, but the time had come to close."
National head of turnaround and insolvency at accounting firm RSM Bird Cameron, Andrew Beck, says staying ahead of market trends was critical for the long-term survival of businesses.
"Companies must change and directors must change what they do, particularly as trends, technology and manufacturing changes," he says.
"They've got to be ahead of the curve and that's an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to do, because you've got to forecast where the company's going."
Restructure is an option for those businesses who find themselves losing the race, but Beck says it is always a costly exercise. He praised Dairy Bell management's swift action to save creditors losing out.
"Restructure work comes at a cost and unfortunately that usually involves a loss of headcount," he says.
"They should be applauded for biting the bullet."
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