8 June 2001

Premium icecream worth extra effort

Making icecream

adds value to milk,

but what should

you consider before

setting out into

processing?

Richard Allison

finds out

GETTING into on-farm milk processing is attractive for adding value to milk, but establishing dairy products in the market-place is not easy, as one Bucks-based icecream producer has found.

Beechdean Farmhouse Dairy Ice Cream started from humble beginnings in 1989. After a one-day course, Andrew Howard bought a small icecream machine and van and launched Beechdean icecream locally.

The key to success is offering a fully traceable dairy product, which is natural, with no artificial additive. The dairy uses the slogan From cow to customer, says Mr Howard.

His initial market survey showed consumers were prepared to pay a premium for traceability. The dairy has an impressive list of clients including the Chelsea Flower Show, Buckingham Palace garden parties and more than 45 theatres and restaurants in London.

"To ensure high quality icecream, clean milk with high solids is needed. Our Jersey cows are managed to produce milk with a butterfat content between 5.6% and 5.9%. They calve all year round to fit in with demand, although more than one-third of sales occur between June and August.

"Herd management is also dedicated to animal welfare to ensure a good product from healthy cows. Only fully traceable, GM-free animal feeds are used. This adds to costs, but is crucial to product marketing."

Mr Howard believes his products are 20% cheaper than organic, but with many of the benefits. "They are nearly 95% organic and we are producing icecream in the purest way possible, without sacrificing quality. There is no additional merit for Beechdean in becoming organic.

"For a successful icecream business, you need to separate the icecream making side from milk production. We achieve this with my brother-in-law managing the farm, while I dedicate myself fully to overseeing icecream production and marketing.

"For the first 10 years, we used milk from our Holstein-Friesians, but then we needed to expand. There was enough scale to warrant setting up a separate Jersey herd, which was a logical step, as icecream could then be marketed using pictures of Jersey cows.

"We only use milk from our 140 Jerseys. Milk from the Holstein-Friesians is sold through the farm-gate route."

Mr Howard says the first seven years were a nightmare, with a steep learning curve. "It took this long to start establishing our products in the market-place. Only last year, when our reputation for quality was sufficiently established, could we start promoting the Beechdean brand."

ICECREAMSUCCESS

&#8226 Quality product essential.

&#8226 Separate processing from farm.

&#8226 Effective marketing.