Cream of the crop
Made fresh at its Chiltern farm with the finest Jersey milk and double cream, the ice cream and dessert ranges of Beechdean Dairies have been satisfying taste buds for almost 20 years
It was in 1989 that, having first met during their respective times at college in Nottingham while studying Agricultural Science, Andrew and Susie Howard established the company known as Beechdean Dairies (Beechdean), starting off humbly with nothing more than a 25 litre per hour freezer and a small additional batch freezer. “In those early days, it was very much a case of milking cows in the morning and then making ice cream in the afternoon, before selling and delivering it in our small van,” explains Andrew, Co- Founder of Beechdean. “Our first-year turnover was £17,460. It was really hard work, as you can imagine, but great fun all the same.
“Over the years that followed we built a small business supplying local pubs and a small number of shops. It wasn’t until a few years later that we began supplying larger customers, but all the while we did so from our site on the farm in the Chiltern Hills and with our own vans. During this time, we sold anything we could to help increase our turnover, including other people’s ice cream, soups, cakes, puddings and anything else that our customers wanted.”
As time went by, and the company increased in size, it eventually outgrew its single site, resulting in the purchasing of a site in Cheshire; a purpose-built ice cream facility that allowed Beechdean to sell its products to much larger clients. With this growth in scale also came a series of targeted acquisitions of various small brands of ice cream, before it went on to complete the purchase of the Loseley/Hillstation group in 2011. Growing at an average rate of ten per cent per annum over the last decade, in 2016 the company made over 150 million portions of ice cream, a figure which is set to increase again in 2017 and makes Beechdean the third largest ice cream manufacturer in the UK.
The company’s four AA BRC sites, three of which are dedicated to ice cream production and are located in Buckinghamshire, Cheshire and Somerset, and one in Leeds that specialises in pancakes and waffles, give it a diverse manufacturing capability. It is arguably best known, however, for its Farmhouse Ice Cream range, which is free from artificial colourings, flavourings or additives, is suitable for vegetarians and is gluten free. “Our Farmhouse range has always been made with the best possible ingredients, including fresh Jersey milk and rich double cream,” Andrew says. “The products themselves have developed over time with the help of our extensive New Product Development team, but mostly by working with our clients. This has led to the creation of several wild and wacky flavours, however the classic that is vanilla still remains the favourite.”
Beechdean’s products are supplied to over 2000 retail stores around the UK, however its client base is very diverse, incorporating food service clients, leading pubs and restaurant chains, and even to Camp Bastion, the Afghan Ministry of Defense airbase located in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Equally as responsible for the quality of its products is Beechdean’s herd of 400 Pedigree Jersey Cows, affectionately referred to as the ‘Beechdean girls’. Born and raised on the company’s Bucks farm site in the Chiltern hills, where they spend their whole lives, they are responsible for producing two million litres of milk. Milked twice a day, the ‘girls’ are known to produce the creamiest milk possible, making it ideal for the company’s ice cream and the core ingredient needed to guarantee constant quality. Between late March and October, the ‘girls’ can be found grazing on fresh Chiltern grass, while in the winter they return to specially built houses, each of which has a special ventilation cubicle, mattresses and back scratchers.
In addition to its Farmhouse label, Beechdean also manufactures several licensed products, including a range based on Nickelodeon characters. “As well as our popular range of ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ products, we are also about to launch a product showcasing the iconic character that is ‘Paddington’,” Andrew enthuses. “One of our best products is the super indulgent ‘Paul Hollywood’ range that is available in Retail in a 500ml tub which has proven to be a massive success. The license business is a multi-billionpound industry in the UK and it is great for Beechdean to have such strong partners.”
Further to the above licenced products, the company is also seeing an increasing rise in demand for its healthier products. Though they still make up only a small percentage of Beechdean’s product range, these ice creams that feature reduced fat, lower sugar and other added benefits have proven to be a strong area of growth in more recent years. “Though the American market does not always translate directly to the UK market, we have found that such niche products are also proving to be a huge success over the other side of the Atlantic,” Andrew adds.
A privately owned, medium-sized business that has the agility to work with all manner of clients, as well as the confidence to invest, the future looks bright for Beechdean. “Our investment plans, which include the current building of an extension to our Cheshire site that will specialise in individual portions and desserts, are all centred around our primary focus, which will always be about ensuring that the range of products we make are the very best they can be,” Andrew states. “We will continue to look to provide our clients with a larger range of products, while ensuring stability in supply. Customers are constantly looking for innovation and knowledge, and we want to be the independent ice cream and dessert specialists for our core markets. We realise however that this will not be possible without the people we employ who make Beechdean special. They are our biggest success story and prove that there really is no substitute for hard work.”