Shiver Premium Ice Cream has harnessed nostalgia, unique retail placement, and market research to become the Bahamas' first locally produced ice cream business.
As a child growing up in the Bahamas, Melissa Darville loved the afternoons when her great grandmother would make ice cream using the fruits from her yard. The whole neighborhood would come in troupes to taste the unique concoctions flavored with soursop, tamarind, and mango — whatever happened to be ripe at the time.
“Having ice cream on Sunday is a Bahamian tradition,” says Darville. “One of my all-time dreams was to open an ice cream store.”
Instead, she settled into a career as an educator. Her first venture into entrepreneurship was launching her own special needs school in 2003 called CMS Learning Centre. But after more than a decade and a few obstacles, Darvillle closed shop in 2014 to focus on a nascent side hustle with the potential to fulfill her childhood dream: Shiver Premium Ice Cream.
Despite the name, Shiver’s minimum viable product was sorbet. The idea was to target consumers adhering to the increasingly popular dairy-free lifestyle and deliver a novel product to the Bahamas, where sorbet is relatively uncommon. Initially, Darville’s plan was to use the business to tide her over while she searched for another teaching job. Then months passed without a bite from employers.
Everything changed when Darville got a call from Access Accelerator SBDC, a program she had applied to on a whim, approving her for a $200,000 loan to buy the equipment to automate her ice cream production. It was a huge break that paired the funding with business classes, training on export readiness, and relationships with international development banks. This was one of three substantial loans and grants — a second from The Bahamas Entrepreneur Venture Fund and a third from The Royal Bank of Canada — that helped Shiver grow from a small, bootstrapped operation funded by Darville and her family members to a real-deal business.
“We had a lot of challenges and began to question whether this was something we really wanted,” says Darville. “But if the reward is more of a personal thing, and not just about finances, then in order to survive a hard time, do something you truly believe in.”
Shiver is currently converting its production to a fully automated plant in order to keep up with demand for the product — a huge leap for an operation that started with a table-top ice cream machine and 25,000 ice cream cups ordered from China. Whereas Shiver was previously able to fill about 200 small cups an hour, automation will increase the tempo to 3,000 per hour. Equipment installation has stalled due to COVID-19, but the business is still thriving thanks to their placement in local delis and stores — a smart business move that was by no means guaranteed.
“When we first launched the business, we could hardly get shelf-space anywhere because of all international brands, so what we did was order 50 custom-made freezers, and used that as our leverage to get in the stores,” explains Darville. “All those places we put our freezers — corner stores, groceries stores — that became what we had to depend on now during COVID, since other partnerships are stalled. That taught us that you have to spread yourself across so that whatever happens, you’re covered in different markets.”