Award winning ice cream
New Zealanders are some of the highest consumers of ice cream in the world, averaging around 23 litres per capita per annum. Quality of product is partly the reason for this, and New Zealander consumer expectations are set at a very high level when it comes to new ice cream products.
In 2014 dairy farmers Julian and Cathy Raine and Murray and Sarah King were wondering how to respond to a reduction in the payout for milk solids of around $3 per kg. They teamed up with highly experienced food technologist, Kristy Giles, who suggested they make their own premium brand ice cream. Following a significant commitment from four Nelson families, Appleby Farms built its own creamery in Stoke and produced its first batch of ice cream with the A2 milk and cream produced on the King and Raine farms in December 2017. Local fruit (such as boysenberries) and some internationally sourced products were combined to create a variety of flavours. Distribution to supermarkets nationwide began in April 2018.
The product rapidly established itself in Nelson as a local favourite and by February 2020 the company had grown its production and network to supply over 300 supermarkets and food outlets around the country. In 2018, Appleby Farms won the “Best in Category for Vanilla Ice Cream” for their Bedford Vanilla Bean at the NZ Ice Cream Awards. Appleby Farms currently has a 3% of the premium take-home ice cream in supermarkets.
Kristy Giles is responsible for ice cream flavours and the production. She says, “we knew the direction we were going from the start”. It enabled them to plan and design a purpose-built, high micro-biological standard, future-proofed production facility “with capacity to burn”, says Kristy. She is confident they are well set up to meet the market and grow because they “have the right people on the bus”. Two other shareholders are also local dairy farmers, so there is a ready-made future source of local milk when the need arises.
Kristy is responsible for planning, scheduling and procurement. As well, she is responsible for farm and factory technical audits. She is proud of and credits the “small but very effective team, who all contribute what is necessary, and who can do a lot in a short amount of time”. Kristy adds they have a weekly review of the “good, the bad and the ugly”, and the motto for the team is to acknowledge that mistakes happen but to “learn fast” from them.
Flavours are created and consumer taste panels run to develop new directions. They are constantly monitoring IRI scan data to see what flavours are selling and adjust production to suit, so it always a considered decision. But, Kristy says, “you always need vanilla and chocolate”.
An Airstream caravan (“The Silver Bullet”) is used to grow brand awareness around Nelson. It appears at the famous Tahunanui Beach throughout summer, and at local events around the top of the South Island, at food and wine festivals and community initiatives. The Silver Bullet is also used as a consumer test market. Another food trailer, “The Igloo” has been employed to raise market awareness throughout the North Island during summer, including an appearance at Auckland’s waterfront on “Ice Cream Sundae”, a promotional event for ice cream manufacturers around New Zealand.
Chief executive Mike Brown joined Appleby Farms in October 2018. With a background in the wine industry and previous roles at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise New Zealand helping food and beverage companies scale up through exporting, he has a highly focused approach to growing the reach and brand of Appleby Farms.
Mike says the summer of 2019/2020 has been about securing market share in New Zealand and then moving into Australia. It is part of a well-considered move that involves having brand clarity, a good export strategy, high food safety standards, control of IP and a customer-led production focus. Australia was chosen because it is a good-sized market and not too dissimilar to New Zealand. While A2 milk is well known in Australia, currently there is no A2 protein ice cream on the market there.
While exports have always been on the agenda for Appleby Farms, Mike believes there is a need to use your (always) limited resources wisely and they have invested in targeted research to support their decision making. Consumer research at Monash University helped to understand the Australian market. It confirmed there is a well-established “warm trust” in New Zealand and its food production that help our products sell there. Beyond that, there are plans to move into East Asia, where New Zealand’s food safety reputation is most critical to a new brand’s acceptance in those markets.
Mike says the Appleby Farms brand is provenance-led, with the key ingredient coming from inter-generational family dairy farms and their values-driven environmental and animal welfare approaches. It capitalises on the current interest and desire in people to be closely connected (either emotionally or locally) to the food they consume. Internationally, New Zealand produce can trade on its high reputation for food safety and the environment in which food is produced. Manufacturing, hygiene and export quality regulations are administered by MPI and the Manufacturers’ Association has set up its own “Guidelines for Ice Cream” with both MPI and the Ministry of Health involved in the development of the code.
In a crowded and competitive market, Appleby Farms is set for growth. Currently they are focusing on sustainability, with key projects including getting ISO140001 certification for the farms and the manufacturing operation, as well as researching future packaging solutions.
Showdown Productions Ltd – Rural Delivery Series 15 2020