Village Ice Cream seeks to represent diversity of Calgary customers with updated packaging

Village Ice Cream is known for decorating its pint cups with illustrations of real Calgarians. It’s a marketing tool the company has used for several years to help promote the made-in-Calgary aspect of its small-batch ice cream. 

Now, Village Ice Cream, which calls its customers “villagers,” is looking for some new faces.

“We’ve run our first-edition villager pint for eight years, which were indeed all real Calgarians and loyal villagers,” owner Billy Friley told the Calgary Eyeopener. “And that was a great run. But I think we all think on our team that it’s time for an update.”

The diversity initiative was prompted by a customer.

“A woman named Eve wrote a very compelling email and a very thoughtful email, expressing what it might be like … to imagine [myself], with a little black child going to Village Ice Cream and him not seeing himself represented on the pint,” Friley said. “And it really affected me and it affected our team and gave us a new perspective that we hadn’t hadn’t really considered before. And it was due time.”

Friley said the company came out with its illustrated pint packaging around 2013.

“We were very young in our company and we came up with this idea,” he said. “We thought how cool would it be, if on our pint cup, we showed real villagers. And so we did a call-out on Instagram and it was a pretty basic process. People came to the store and we took a head-to-toe shot of them against one of our white walls in the store, and then went to illustrating them with water colours. And so it was kind of whoever showed up, they got on the pint.”

Friley says it’s time to be more intentional about how the business reflects its customers. He said he is going to start working with illustrator Chelsea Charles, who has done the first new illustration — of customer Evelyne Anifowose and her son Zeke — for the new packaging.

She’s phenomenal. We’re so excited,” Friley said. “And she’s also a person of colour, and we thought that was really important as well, because we need more perspective, you know, and having a person of colour, who probably is going to be more sensitive to what diversity should look like, giving us giving us advice … was very important to us. But equally important, she’s just an incredible artist.”

Billy Friley owns Village Ice Cream and says it’s due time for the company’s packaging to better reflect the diversity of Calgarians. (CBC)

Friley said he wants to avoid the pitfalls of appearing to just be jumping on the Black Lives Matter movement without sincerity. He referenced the public relations backlash after another Calgary ice cream company came out with a chocolate ice cream flavour that seemed to capitalize on the Black Lives Matter movement rather than support it.

“That was a mistake that we all bore witness to, and it was unfortunate,” Friley said.

“It’s been a big learning process and we’ve made our own mistakes along the way as well. So, they’re difficult subjects, and they require all of us to kind of look inward a little deeper, and to understand our own blind spots and our own ignorance with respect to the topic. And that can definitely breed a little bit of anxiety around the topic.”

Any Calgarians who want to get their faces on the new pint can go to the Village Ice Cream website and register. The deadline is this Sunday, Sept. 27, at 11 p.m.

“We’re in the final few days. We’ve had some great submissions so far, and we’re hoping to see them come through on the weekend,” Friley said.

There will be 45 faces on the pint.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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