It might be difficult to imagine at this time of year but the ice cream industry in the UK is booming. Around the country, small artisan ice cream manufactuers are springing up and some are making good profits. What’s more, it can be easier than it looks to start producing top quality ice cream on the farm.
Mandy Dakin and her family farm 200 acres in Matlock, Derbyshire. The Dakins have around 200 head of cattle, 90 of which are dairy cows.
Her family had been looking for a dairy diversification for some time and, after a trip to Italy, hit upon an idea.
“We saw the ice cream there and thought, why couldn’t we do this?” she says.
In 2011, her family set up the ice cream parlour at Matlock Meadows selling ice cream made on the farm directly from the farm – from “cow to cone”, as Mrs Dakin puts it.
While the process of making the ice cream is quite straightforward, the family found setting up the enterprise a bigger challenge than they first thought, as they did not already have a space suitable for the equipment.
Overall, the equipment needed and building of the ice cream parlour cost around £300,000. The family recieved a Rural Development Programme for England grant, which took care of 55% of the cost. “We couldn’t have done it without,” says Mrs Dakin.
The rest of the finance came from a bank loan.
With no suitable outbuildings to convert, much of the money was spent on building the new ice cream parlour.
“We had no issues with planning permission but, as we’re on a small country lane, the highways agency initially turned us down,” said Mrs Dakin.
“However, we had a visit from the town planners who voted in favour and overruled the highways agency.”
The equipment needs to be hooked up to electricity, water and a drain and certain food hygiene and health and safety measures must be in place for manufacturing food products for sale – such as handwashing systems, appropriate ventilation and surfaces that are easy to disinfect.
The business employs Mrs Dakin and her son Josh full time, with three part time staff members. Mrs Dakin’s husband Mick works full time on the farm with two other full-time workers.
The farm has a supply contract with Dairy Crest for the majority of the milk yield – only a small proportion is made into ice cream.
“It’s been a steep learning curve and we still haven’t finished learning,” she says.
One of the main challenges for the new business was getting people through the door.
“Many of our customers come from word of mouth. We’re close to the town centre but on a country lane so our customers really have to be looking to find us.”
The business goes through an average of 20 tubs a week, which changes depending on the seasons.
However, to make the most of quieter times, such as weekday mornings, and low season, they hold educational visits and birthday parties. The ice cream parlour also sells cakes, snacks and drinks.
“People like the fact that it is a real working dairy farm.”
The manufacturing process
The manufacturing process is simple the operation of the equipment requires very little training. Much of the process happens automatically so it can be fit in easily around other tasks.
After milking, the raw milk is mixed with cream, skimmed milk powder, sugar and stabiliser/emulsifier and pasturised. Legally, the whole mix must be pasturised, even where pasturised milk is used.
The pasturiser heats the mix and then drops it to around 4C for 72 hours. This process happens automatically. A pasturiser typically used by farmers holds 60 litres and takes around two hours.
This mix is then poured into a batch freezer, which lowers the temperature to 8C and adds 30-50% air. The finished ice cream can be then put into tubs and stored in a freezer or served immediately.
If stored in a deep freeze, tubs will keep up to nine months, in a display freezer they will need to be used around three to four days after opening.
Britain is Europe’s third-biggest consumer of ice cream at around 8 litres per person annually, so this type of diversification is growing, according to trade body the Ice Cream Alliance.
“Dairy farmers really should give serious thought to diversifying,” says ICA chief executive Zelica Carr.
There is a market for premium artisan ice cream, she says, and a great deal of support available for those entering the industry.
Carpigiani, which supplied the Dakins’s equipment, runs free day-long “gelato universities” around the UK for those considering going into ice cream. The dates and venues are available on their website.
“We still see it being in its infancy in the UK,” says sales manager Alan Roberts.
For one farmer, a diversification to create an extra revenue stream led to a successful ice cream retail and manufacturing business.
Award-winning ice cream maker David Otterburn started making ice cream on his dairy farm in Helmsley in North Yorkshire 25 years ago. Now his brand Ryeburn of Helmsley is the UK ICA champion flavoured ice cream maker. He also won best in show and best dairy product at the Great Yorkshire Show this summer.
“Switching to ice cream making was the best decision we ever made. It’s a hugely enjoyable and interesting business and instead of getting a few p/litre, farmers have the potential to be earning £18/litre for scooped ice cream,” says Mr Otterburn.
“It’s quite easy to get started and dairy farmers have an advantage because they already have an understanding of milk and fat contents.
“It’s a no brainer as far as I am concerned.”
Equipment needed and rough costs (based on Matlock Meadows)
- Pasturiser – around £15,000 + VAT
- Batch freezer – around £17,000 + VAT
- Display cabinet (for retail) – around £11,000 + VAT
- Storage freezers (varies depending on size and number needed)
- Shop fitting (optional)
Ice cream stats
A standard 5 litre tub:
- Costs £7-8 to make (depending on flavourings used)
- Wholesales at around £20-25
- Will make 40-45 scoops
- Each scoop retails around £1.70-2.20
- 15 litres of ice cream requires around 10 litres of milk