Breaking into the major chains – adapting to fit customer needs
With the shrinking British summer, one Yorkshire ice cream maker needed an innovative solution to make sure it was fulfilling its potential and maximising production capacity rather than hibernating during the winter months.
Brymor Ice Cream is a recognised premium ice cream brand and has developed a reputation for quality over the last 33 years. However with seasonal trends, the reality was that Brymor was running far short of its potential production capacity.
The owners realised they had to sweat the asset but were reluctant to dramatically increase their herd of Guernsey cows at their base at Jervaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire.
Managing Director James Ashford explains: “The challenge for us was how to get the volume we produce up? We wouldn’t compromise the recipe or ingredients with Brymor Ice Cream, however we knew we wouldn’t be able to manage and maintain a larger herd all year round.
“The owner of the company realised that we needed a separate brand and Yorkshire Ice Cream was born. By doing this we could change our milk supply, getting the volumes we need, at the right price and giving the business flexibility of supply.”
James says the plan for the new brand was to target major supermarkets and create something that was a cheaper option to the premium Brymor Ice Cream.
Cost was a major factor – it had to be significantly cheaper to produce - and Brymor tried multiple recipes to create the right product. They also turned to a well established, Harrogate based design agency to create packaging that would appeal to supermarkets.
The total cost of the development process was significant but James argues this is cheap compared to many other new products in the category. Despite thoroughly testing and developing the product, James says they still had many lessons to learn.
He explains: “We had three flavours at the beginning but we weren’t happy with the chocolate and strawberry. As a result we have scrapped those and are just focussing on vanilla, trying to make that as good as we can. You have to be as cost efficient as possible because you are in a highly competitive market space’
Yorkshire Ice Cream is now available in Tesco and Morrison’s stores across the region – over a year from initial pitch to product launch and after a lot of emails, meetings and general knocking on doors.
But James says the biggest lesson in this process was understanding these major players and adapting to their needs: “We’ve moved from SALSA food standards accreditation to BRC, which to use an analogy is like going from league 2 to the premier league in terms of food standards. It’s a big change but companies need to be willing to make these big changes if they are going to meet the standards of the large chains.
“We’ve also had to shift to much longer lead in times lead times. We’ve always been fairly small and reactive, operating on a production-led model. But as we’ve grown we have had to become a sales-led business, if we didn’t adapt we would be caught out by the large volume demands of the supermarkets and the challenge of manufacturing so many different flavours.
Production has also seen a big change. Brymor Ice Cream is hand-filled and individually picked and the Brymor team then had to adapt to create massive quantities that are palletised and shipped into off site cold-storage.
James says: “We’ve had to work very hard to gear up to producing the volumes needed. We still fill tubs by hand and we’ve needed a number of production staff working to meet these orders. The challenge going forward is automating that process.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the innovation process to create a new brand has been the impact it has had on the historic premium Brymor Ice Cream brand.
James adds: “We wanted to create a sister brand but we’ve made it so good that it is now trumping the premium brand. When you sit both products side by side it’s hard to tell which is the premium product: “As a result we now have to rethink Brymor to show it is as the high end, luxury purchase for the buyer.”
James’ top tips for innovation
- Plan carefully and understand that your customers may not move as quickly as you
- Test your ideas thoroughly and don’t be afraid to abandon them if they are not right
- Focus on a key product, process or idea and make it the best it can be before developing the next