Since their successful appearance on Shark Tank, the Ice Chip Grannies, Charlotte Clary and Bev Vine-Haines, creators of the successful business, have not slowed down a bit. In fact, they have recently moved their operation into a bigger and more efficient space in Olympia across from the Olympia Airport on Hwy 99.
I met Charlotte recently for a tour of the new facility and learned about so many exciting updates to their business ventures that my head was spinning. Charlotte has the ability to make you immediately feel a part of her world. Perhaps Barbara and Mark also felt this affinity when they made their offer on Shark Tank. Even though the Shark Tank offer was not finalized, the publicity from their appearance propelled them forward with increased sales and opportunities.
While I was waiting for Charlotte, her assistant Sylvia Henzel gave me a visual tour of the history of Ice Chips. A beautiful photo gallery begins with the early years in the garage in Yelm, on to the airplane hangar production site, and now the new, spacious and increasingly automated workspace.
Once I visited Charlotte’s office, I knew immediately the hands-on loving approach that brought the Grannies this far had not been lost through the wonder of such success. Three photos on the wall of Charlotte’s office speak volumes. Two are of gorgeous stands of Birch trees, which provide the xylitol extract that sweetens the Ice Chips. The other was a collage of all the equipment, utensils, old cookbooks and mementos from their earlier days of production.
Charlotte took the opportunity to extol the virtues of xylitol as we viewed the photo of the trees. “The natural sweetener is recommended by health food experts because it is a lower calorie alternative to sugar. This is helpful for diabetics since it is lower on the glycemic scale, so our first target audience was health food stores.”
Later on the tour, she pointed out the sample size Ice Chips that dentists order for patients. Studies have found xylitol is less harmful than other sugar candies for tooth enamel and may also have restorative properties.
Moving from Charlotte’s serene office setting into the pristine working spaces was an interesting transition. Floor to ceiling packing cases dwarfed us as Charlotte explained what we were seeing. “Down the production line, the cases are still filled by hand, but we now rely on a production company to work out the sizes and quantities needed. It’s a far cry from having our husbands help stack the filled boxes on one side of the garage,” Charlotte explained.
Husbands are still involved in the business. Charlotte pointed to Bev’s husband Larry’s office. “He is the Production/Facility Manager, and my husband is the Office Manager.” Having healthy candy for their combined 37 grandchildren was the motivation for developing Ice Chips in the first place, and now, ironically, their target market has moved from health food stores to the mass market, and more specifically children in the past year.
As we moved into the production area, it was obvious that automation had replaced the “hand-smashed pieces” of the early days. Initially the talk of high-tech machines worried long time employees, like Rose Hart, but she said, “We see the demand growing, so it looks like we will keep expanding.” The working atmosphere at Ice Chips is family-oriented. Many of the grandchildren join in after school and in the summer.
In the drying room, 100 racks of ice chips sheets were cooling before they face the new chipping machine on their destiny to be weighed and packed into traditional 1.7-ounce tins or the new 1-ounce pouches. “The drying time depends on the flavor,” Charlotte explained. “Some dry for up to 24 hours.”
Of the eighteen flavors currently produced, Charlotte listed the top eight as Cinnamon, Peppermint, Lemon, Berry Mix, Licorice, Sour Apple and Cherry. Medicinal flavors of Clove, Ginger, Menthol Eucalyptus and Essential Oils are popular as natural healing remedies. After chips are packed, they are date coded for up to three years. Interestingly, germs and bacteria cannot grow on them. Ice Chips are currently labeled non-GMO, and the company soon hopes to add the kosher designation.
The new pouch packaging design was initiated partially through Ice Chips’ collaboration with Sony pictures. Appealing to children in size and parents in cost, the pouches are now part of two movie promotions. Goosebumps’ characters from the recent remake appeared last summer on the pouches and an exciting follow-up is the Disney promotion of Finding Dory, the long awaited sequel to Finding Nemo, which will be in theaters this summer.
For more insight into this wonderful duo, grab a copy of Bev’s book, Two Grannies in a Garage: How Hard-Headed Perseverance Trumped Scrapbooking.
Ice Chips offers tours for school and civic groups. Contact Sylvia Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at 800-202-6623.