So you want to… Make ice-cream from your milk?

Like the idea of making your milk worth £14/litre?

Enticed by the prospect of a product that costs £3 to make and yet sells for £40?

Then maybe it is time to start thinking about ice-cream.

And if you are worried that the market is already awash with farmhouse ice-cream makers, don’t panic.

Those in the know reckon the right product in the right location can confidently jump aboard the bandwagon of a market that is still growing at 3% a year.

There is no specific trade organisation dedicated to farmhouse ice-cream-making, but the Ice Cream Alliance is a good place to look for advice. 

Mark Gossage is the ICA’s top man and while he is out to encourage newcomers to ice-cream making, he says farmers must be aware that they are moving into a food processing business.

And that opens up a whole new set of rules and regulations.

How much ice-cream do I want to produce?

Most new starters opt to become artisan ice-cream makers.

That means producing ice-cream in small batches (90 litres/hour) with a range of flavours and “inclusions”, with the emphasis on a freshly-made product.

For bigger volumes (300 litres/hour) you will need a continuous flow system.

Despite the higher throughput, most large-scale farmhouse ice-cream makers are adamant that they fall into the artisan category in terms of the quality, recipes and natural ingredients used even though they also run a continuous flow system.

Where do I start?

Contact your local environmental health office and local authority planning office to outline your intentions, though most people considering an ice-cream venture bring in a specialist consultant at the outset.

Local Business Link centres also provide guidance.

You will need to register with the environmental health office and adhere to food manufacture and retailing codes of practice.

There may also be planning issues over access for ice-cream customers and farm vehicles entering the farm.

If you intend to produce ice-cream to supply to a wholesaler, you will have to register as a dairy manufacturer.

How much milk will I need to make ice-cream?

Very little; in fact some new businesses are based on the production of just a handful of cows.

As a guide, the milk from one month’s production from 100 cows is ample to supply a thriving family business that is also selling through wholesale outlets.

Where do I buy my equipment and what will it cost?

The two main pieces of artisan equipment are a heat processor (which pasteurises and stirs the ingredients) and a batch freezer.

You will also need a chest freezer to store the ice-cream in once it is frozen.

REFSS of Hereford, a leading supplier of artisan ice-cream-making equipment, reckons on a minimum set-up cost of about £10,000.

That would buy an 8kg capacity heat processor and a 3kg capacity batch freezer capable of producing 128kg of ice-cream in eight hours of processing.

Higher throughputs will mean bigger price tags; a 30-litre heat processor costs £8000 and a 25-litre batch freezer costs £11,000.

But second-hand equipment can be bought to get the business off the ground and some suppliers will take it back in part exchange when you are ready to expand.

How much competition is there?

Though the farmhouse ice-cream market is expanding at about 3% a year, it is still important to do some market research.

Stand outside a supermarket or a school and ask people about their ice-cream-buying habits and you will soon get an idea of who your potential customers are.

Check out the competition, too.

It isn’t essential to be on the outskirts of a major conurbation, but it isn’t advisable to be too remote either.

Either way, a good way of making an initial impact is to give the ice-cream away for free for the first weekend you are open for business.

Consider converting an old building for making the ice-cream and possibly for an ice-cream parlour, but be wary of access issues and seek advice from the local planning officer.

Who else do I need to inform?

Bringing the public on to your premises will require public liability cover, so get in touch with your insurer.

Develop a good working relationship with your local environmental health officer, too, as he or she will be ensuring you maintain good hygiene standards.

Production records will also have to be kept.

You may also be liable for business rates; check with your local VO (contactable via your local council offices)

What sort of profit can I make?

Ice-cream can very profitable.

In an 8 hour-day with the artisan kit mentioned above you could make 96kg of, say, vanilla ice-cream.

That would be enough to fill 1280 75g single cornets.

If you sold those cornets at £1.30 each, you would have grossed £1664 (inc VAT).

Your costs, meanwhile, would be as follows: £96 for the milk, sugar, cream, stabiliser, emulsifier and vanilla flavour and £102 for the cones.

So gross profit is an impressive £1218.

From that you would need to deduct electricity charges and labour costs (if you are employing labour).

Mark Gossage says that, on average, people new to ice-cream-making produce about 3000 litres a year.

How much labour will I need?

Labour is the biggest cost in ice-cream production, but making ice-cream at the output described above can be done by one person.

It is not a seven-days-a-week job, either; you could make a batch on Friday and then sell it over the weekend, for instance.

How do I learn how to make ice-cream?

Training is included in some of the equipment purchase deals, but the Ice Cream Alliance can help with training courses and recipe development.

The public is becoming increasingly discerning and your success depends not only on producing consistently high quality, but also maintaining that quality as you introduce new flavours.

Most ice-cream makers will tell you that success comes not from having the biggest range of flavours, but from the quality of the ice-cream itself.

However, innovative recipes that create new flavours and improve on those of competitors will benefit the business.

Are the public interested in where the milk comes from?

Yes. Producing milk from your own cows is essential and if the customers can see the cows grazing nearby that’s even better.

Do I need to have experience in dealing with the public?

Yes! It is a people business and it is essential to have good inter-personal skills and be prepared to talk to customers about your product.

What are the pitfalls?

You will fail at ice-cream making if you are not deeply interested and involved in the production of ice-cream.

Most farmers who make and sell farmhouse ice-cream are passionate about their product and constantly looking at ways to improve it.

It is also a good excuse to take a fact-finding and tasting trip to Italy (the home of ice-cream making).

Can I get a grant?


Development grants are available through DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme and regional business development programmes are geared to help.

Because so many ice-cream businesses have been set up in recent years, the regional business development advisers are ideally placed to assess the viability of a new ice-cream venture.

Will I have to provide a parlour?

Not necessarily.

Many ice-cream businesses sell their ice-cream from a no-frills building with a freezer in it (or even a wooden shed, provided it meets the hygiene regs).

Others have elaborate eat-in facilities and provide other refreshments as well as a more extensive ice-cream menu.

Bear in mind the higher labour requirements if you choose this path, though.

Does my ice-cream, by law, have to contain certain ingredients?

Not if you sell it yourself.

If it is sold to a retailer or restaurant it must meet certain compositional standards, like not less than 5% fat and not less than 2.5% milk protein.

New starters should study the Ice-cream (Heat Treatment etc) Regulations 1959.

Useful info on recipes and “balancing” ice-cream can be obtained as a fact sheet from the Ice Cream Alliance.

Want more information?

The Ice Cream Alliance (01332 203333 or represents 750 of the estimated 1000 ice-cream makers operating in the UK.

Membership costs £120 a year and gives technical help, a supplier database, monthly magazine and annual trade show.

Also, on-site consultancy for £35/hr (£50/hr for non-members).

Non-members can also download useful fact-sheets from its website.


Reading matter:

  • Ice Cream Making by Dr James Rothwell (for details phone the ICA)

Case study
Peter Walling
cockerham, lancaster

Peter Walling has been making ice-cream for 17 years, so anyone thinking about getting into this business should heed his advice: “Take a long, hard look at what you’ve got in terms of the farm, the location and most of all how much time you’ve got to spare.”

Along with his brother Allan, he has built up a thriving business at Crook Hey Farm, Cockerham, near Lancaster.

But although he is selling up to 5000 litres of ice-cream a week in mid-summer, this year-round business is still only accounting for just over one month’s annual production from the family’s herd of 80 black-and-white cows.

“My accountant asks me why we are still milking cows.

He’d say sell the cows and buy the milk, but then we would destroy the real image of the business.

It’s knowing the ice-cream is made from our own cows’ milk that is the big pull for customers,” says Peter, who has a direct sales quota of 30,000 litres.

Vanilla cones start at 80p, with ice-cream junkies licking their way through three-scoop waffle cones at £2.60.

The new ice-cream parlour now incorporates The Pudding House restaurant and there is also a thriving butcher’s shop specialising in rare breed meat.

“We started selling from a roadside cabin.

We opened for three hours on Sunday afternoons in summer.

We are now open seven days a week all year round and produce over 20 different flavours.”

The success and development of Walling’s ice-cream owes a lot to Peter’s experience in the milk manufacturing industry in the 1980s.

But although he says the creation of new flavours must always be based on “the science” of ice-cream making, his years of experience have honed the special skills needed to give distinction and originality to individual flavours.

“Location is important.

If you are in the wrong place you’ll watch good money drain away.

You have got to look at what you have actually got on the farm in terms of layout and how you can utilise all the farm’s resources to set up the business.”

Case study
Eric Dowson
clayton-le-dale, near blackburn, lancs

“Making ice-cream isn’t difficult. Finding people to it eat can be difficult and finding enough people to eat it and make it a worthwhile business can be even more difficult,” says Lancashire dairy farmer Eric Dowson.

But he has no need to worry.

With his wife Amanda they’ve launched Mrs Dowson’s Ice-cream and already it’s been hailed as one of the UK’s top ice-creams in the annual Great Taste Awards.

The Downsons run a milk processing business based on their 200-cow Holstein herd at Hawkshaw Farm, Clayton-le-Dale near Blackburn.

They started making ice-cream in summer 2003 and although they have now got a core range of about 15 flavours, they have produced up to 50.

“We were determined to make the very best ice-cream using home-produced milk, cream and sometimes butter and to use only wholesome ingredients of the highest quality.

The whole family is our tasting panel; every ice-cream we make has to pass muster with us all,” says Amanda Dowson.

But there is a lot more to making good ice-cream than simply creating a vast range of flavours, say the Dowsons.

“At least 50% of the ice-cream consumed in the UK is vanilla, so that puts the flavour issue in context.”

Mrs Dowson’s ice-cream is now also available from the farm, but initially volume sales were targeted at other retail outlets and restaurants.

And the close relationship the couple have established with many of the county’s leading chefs has led to the creation of some innovative flavour combinations.

“I just love ice-cream and the chance to create some really unusual flavours has been a fascinating challenge,” says Mr Dowson, who includes ice-creams such as strawberry and black pepper, beetroot and even Lancashire cheese among his more unusual creations.

A large proportion of the Dowsons’ ice-cream is sold in single portion pots to retail outlets.




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