Easter retail order boosts dairy farm’s luxury lolly diversification
- Credit: Ian Burt
A Norfolk dairy farm is hoping its diversification into luxury ice lollies will bear fruit during the Easter weekend, after securing a major order from a regional supermarket.
Dann's farm at North Tuddenham, near Dereham, has extended its existing ice cream range by investing in machinery to produce lollies – blending its own dairy products with locally-sourced fruit to create flavours such as blueberry and yoghurt, strawberries and cream, and elderflower.
And the company is celebrating its first large retail order, with almost 7,000 frozen lollies despatched to the East of England Co-Op this week, which will be selling them in 130 stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
Operations manager Simon Dann said: 'The only other lolly production in East Anglia is in Bedfordshire, so it gives us a unique selling point. We try to build it with as much Norfolk provenance as we can. We have started with the fruit, but we will shift more into the dairy side as things go on.
'To be fair, doing a raspberry and lime lolly does not benefit my cows at all. To put it in context, last year, we used four cows' worth of milk to make ice cream, out of 400.
'I have more confidence for ice cream than I do for milking at the moment. It will help things, but the trouble is we're still investing in it.'
Despite the continuing low milk prices, investments are also being made in the future of the dairy, run by Mr Dann's son Alex, including an estimated £1.5m to acquire a neighbouring herd and build a new parlour and cattle sheds. Plus, a £1.6m anaerobic digester is awaiting a planning decision from local councillors.
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Mr Dann said some of the money had been freed up by selling some arable land, and although he was optimistic about the opportunities for ice cream and lollies, the firm still needed to focus on its core business.
'I am optimistic about this part of the business, and the milk job will come right eventually, but whether that's nine months, three years or seven years I don't know,' he said.
Production manager James Smith has been developing the lollies since joining the farm nine months ago, after 10 years working as a head chef at Poultec Training in Mattishall.
'All the ingredients are as local as possible,' he said. 'The strawberries and raspberries are from Sharrington and Rollesby, or we have a small allotment that we grow ourselves. The quality in the fruit is sensational.'
Mr Smith said there had been 'several learning curves' in setting up the production line, including a packaging machine bought from China and a lolly bath, which has been converted from using a salt brine cooling solution, to using propylene glycol to lower the freezing point of water to -26 degrees.