Recently the team from Closer Magazine went to visit Andrew and Susie Howard – the company’s co-founders – at their farm in Buckinghamshire to meet the ‘Jersey Girls’ and discuss flavours, family life and their partnership with Fred. Olsen.
Beechdean Ice Cream Company has been supplying delicious ice cream to Fred. Olsen ships for over 16 years. This proudly independent company is, like Fred. Olsen, family run and has carefully grown its business since it began in 1989, becoming one of the leading ice cream manufacturers in the UK.
Co-founders Andrew and Susie Howard first came up with the idea of making ice cream at Susie’s family’s dairy farm after they met at university. With her farming background, a one-day ice cream making course – and lots of enthusiasm – they produced their first batch of ice cream. Since that simple start the company has grown to add an additional production facility in Chester and they have been approached by Warner Bros, Nickelodeon and other prestigious clients to produce customised ice cream and lollies. Despite their success this husband and wife team have kept their feet firmly on the ground and they are still heavily involved with the day-to-day running of the company.
Jersey Cows play an integral part in the business, not only because of the creamy quality of their milk, but also due to their very friendly nature. Beechdean are strong believers in herd welfare, which has the added benefits of higher yields and a better quality of milk. All 300 cows have been named and this is passed down the family when they have a calf. They are milked twice a day, but are given a well-earned holiday each year. In the cold weather they’re housed in buildings with special cleaning systems, fresh sawdust and even their own foam mattresses! Once the winter’s over they spend the rest of the year roaming the fields as they please.
The original Beechdean Dairy Farm is still in full use today, set in the picturesque Buckinghamshire countryside. Recently the team from our Closer Magazine were invited to visit the farm and find out more about the company, its philosophy and of course, the cows. Owners Andrew and Susie spared some time to talk with the team about experiments with ice cream flavours, family life and the ‘Jersey Girls’…
Closer: You started your business from scratch 27 years ago and have gradually grown to become the third largest ice cream producer in the UK. Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
Andrew: The most important thing is to give the customer what they want. On top of that we’ve stayed independent. Out two boys are getting involved now too; when you have a big family working together you generally have good results.
Closer: What’s it like working with your family?
Andrew: At the end of the day you need challenges and you need people to challenge: the most important thing is that we respect each other. As the youngsters get involved we want their energy and ideas. Business is like a family, you need new ideas constantly otherwise you become old and stale.
Closer: Do you still get involved with the production process?
Andrew: The development facilities are still my responsibility. I’d be horrified if I didn’t know how to use one of the machines. Both the boys have worked in the factory – if they want to be in the business they need to know how it works from the bottom up. I think you’ve got to keep your feet totally on the ground.
Closer: Why do you think Beechdean stands out from other ice cream producers?
Susie: I think it’s a few things. We make some great quality products – but it’s also the determination to do everything as best as we possibly can, along with the range of ice creams we offer.
Andrew: Our clients make us unique. We know our clients and we’re very lucky to have some long term relationships.
Susie: We’re making a fun product; to see people eating your ice cream and be smiling is the best recommendation you can ever have.
Closer: How do you come up with new ice cream flavours?
Susie: We’re always trying to evolve and have a team that works on developing flavours. A lot of new suggestions come from our clients, but we also look at what’s happening in the market place as well. Salted Caramel is massive in the UK at the moment and we’ve produced our own version recently.
Andrew: As you go up in quality you can get more variety of flavours. People are nervous about trying anything too way out, so linking it to products that they know, such as lemon meringue pie flavour, can give them confidence to try it. These days you can go barmy and have hot dog ice cream, peanut butter and jelly or Pimm’s flavour. It’s fun playing about, absolutely magical. It’s like Willy Wonka times ten!
Closer: Have you had any unusual requests from clients?
Susie: We made lavender-flavoured ice cream for the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday. It smelt like it was going to taste strange, but it was absolutely lovely.
Andrew: We’ve been lucky enough to supply the Royal Household for quite some time, but this request was very special. At first it seemed bonkers. These flavours are fashionable now, but back then hunting around to find edible lavender was quite hard work. We’ve also supplied troops in Camp Bastion, even though it took 72 days to get the ice cream out there.
Closer: Which of your ice creams are your favourite?
Andrew: It used to be Sticky Toffee Pudding, but right now I’m enjoying our new Limoncello and Blackcurrant.
Susie: I love our Salted Caramel flavour at the moment, definitely!
Closer: We’ve met the cows, or ‘The Girls’ as you call them, and it’s clear they all have their own personalities. Do you have any interesting stories you can tell us about them?
Andrew: Many years ago we both worked on the farm and milked the cows. The one thing for me was getting up at 4am. There was one cow who always sat at the back of the parlour where I’d often have a nap between milking. Every single time she’d stick her head round and wake me up – absolutely fantastic.
Closer: And how do you look after them?
Andrew: The most important thing is a happy cow. In the winter when they come into the barns they’ve all got foam mattresses to sleep on and all the sawdust is kept clean. They even have back scratchers.
Susie: Happy cows produce more milk and better quality milk too.
Andrew: If you want a cow out of the Beechdean fields you go and call them and they’ll come to you.
Susie: And they like tickles! It’s important to tickle them every now and then.
Closer: What has been your proudest moment at Beechdean to date?
Susie: Personally I have two. I was very honoured to be able to meet the Queen; there was a new Waitrose store in Windsor and they asked three of their local suppliers to go along and be presented to the Queen. I was very lucky to be one of those to be invited. And my second moment was last year when we were finalists in the Daily Telegraph Business Awards. Sadly we didn’t win, but to come in the top four out of 600 was amazing.
Closer: Lastly, have you ever been on a cruise?
Susie: Yes we have, with Fred. Olsen.
Andrew: That was for my 40th. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to go cruising, but having visited some of the Fred. Olsen ships we decided to go. Fred. Olsen were absolutely fantastic, we were very well look after. We got involved in all the fancy dress!