Kiran Grewal catches up with Confectionery Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Sally Newall, Founder of Simply Ice Cream, which was hailed as winner of Micro Business of the Year at the FSB Awards 2022.
What is the ethos behind Simply Ice Cream, what are you trying to achieve?
At Simply Ice Cream we believe that simple, natural food tastes best, and we’ve created a range of ice creams that are made using natural, locally sourced ingredients (where possible), with home-made flavours that are free from additives or preservatives. Our Ice Cream is still made the old fashioned way, by hand, in small batches. We have developed over 30 delicious flavours of ice cream and sorbets, including our fantastic vegan range that’s made with a coconut milk base.
For me, it’s always been important to support other local businesses, and I try to ensure we use as many local suppliers and producers as we can in our ice cream. The lemon curd in our lemon curd ice cream comes from Kentish brand The Wooden Spoon Co, and the fudge in our Kentish Coffee and Cobnut Fudge comes from confectionery producer Fudge Kitchen.
When I began Simply Ice Cream back in 2008 I wanted the brand to be based on a strong, core set of values – passion, integrity, excellence, simplicity and naturalness. We are continually updating our tastes and flavours, but always in keeping with the changing seasons and the high standards we operate to.
What made you veer away from professional catering services into the world of ice cream?
I actually still do the odd bit of catering! It was the catering that led to the conception of Simply Ice Cream, as I was making my own honeycomb ice cream for catered events and people began asking where they could buy it. The interest in the ice cream became more and more apparent, so eventually I thought why not turn this into a business?!
When I first started the brand I was still catering on the side, so it was a gradually built over time. Our first flavours were the Heavenly Honeycomb, made using my homemade honeycomb recipe, Divine Chocolate, Sublime Strawberry and Dreamy Vanilla. These are now known as our core range, but we have many others to choose from and also make bespoke flavours for several customers, including Turkish Delight, Matcha and Eton Mess.
Has ice cream always been a passion of yours?
Cooking from scratch has always been a passion of mine, passed down from my mother who I took over the catering business from. I just don’t see the need for mass produced, highly processed foods when we have such fantastic ingredients right here in the UK that we can cook with. Yes, it takes a little extra time and commitment but the end result is so worth it. I have always made my own desserts and ice creams, and the brand naturally evolved from people’s love of the ice cream I was making.
I have a big family and I’m always hosting and cooking lots of food. I think great tasting food can really enhance a moment, and I like to think that our ice cream is being enjoyed at special occasions up and down the country!
Tell us what a day in the life in this business and job role looks like for you.
It’s very busy! Our Simply Ice Cream HQ is actually within the grounds of our house so I’m able to start early and finish late if need be, with only a short walk back to the house in the evening. I’m really hands on with the business, and we’re quite a small team so everyone pitches in. My day can include sorting out orders, lots of zoom calls, press interviews, even making ice cream if we have a last minute request! We’re in the process of moving to a new office and production site so a lot of my time is spent organising the building restructure of that, as well as managing my other businesses.
With events back up and running, you’ll also find me at trade shows and consumer events throughout the UK. We just came back from IFE at the Excel and it was fantastic to be out promoting our brand in person again. Events have always played an important role in driving the business forward, so we’re excited to do more in the coming months.
In your opinion, are customers more interested in locally sourced ingredients now? Why do you think this is?
There is definitely more interest in locally produced and sourced food, particularly since the pandemic. Most of our retail partners tend to be local independents like farm shops, deli’s and independent cafes who want to stock local brands. I think there is a new appreciation for artisan businesses who are passionate about making high quality products with traceable ingredients.
In Kent and the South East we have fantastic distribution and brand awareness, and lots of people recognise our signature angel wing logo. Our mission for 2022 is to become more widely distributed throughout the UK, via a franchise network and increasing our presence in independents.
How has ice cream fared in the retail space, despite an overall trend for more focus on health and wellbeing?
The last few years have shown a decline in our sales, primarily due to the closure of many retail outlets throughout the pandemic. Having said that, I think with the ups and downs we’ve all experienced since 2020, people are looking to treat and indulge where they can. According to Kantar data, UK ice cream sales were valued at £1,316.9M in 2020, up by 20%.
Naturally, the ice cream category is seasonal and fairly weather dependent which can have a huge impact on the type of year we have. We’ve developed an extensive range of flavours that are perfect for both warmer and colder months; fruity sorbets, and classics like 70% cocoa chocolate during summer, and comforting mince pie, cinnamon and apple crumble during winter.
I think the focus on health and wellbeing isn’t necessarily to our detriment, as people begin to seek better quality, luxurious products that allow them a little moment of self-care and indulgence. We’ve never been big on promotions or value deals, because we know that our products are to be savoured and enjoyed.
What did winning the Micro Business of the Year mean to you?
We were thrilled to win Micro Business of the Year at the FSB Awards 2022! As a small artisan business it was fantastic to be recognised, particularly for our resilience in the face of Covid-19, Brexit, supply shortages and price hikes. The last 2-3 years have been really challenging, but being a small and nimble brand has enabled us to pivot and make changes where necessary to keep the business going.
The lockdowns actually gave us the time and opportunity to drive the brand forward in other ways. In December 2020 we launched a Suffolk Franchise, with the intention of replicating the successful business model we’ve had in Kent around other counties in the UK. Our Suffolk Franchisee works closely with us at Simply Ice Cream HQ, and has built up a strong network of retail outlets, increasing our distribution and brand awareness.
In Spring 2021 we launched a range of vegan ice creams, in response to the growing demand for dairy free alternatives and as part of our sustainability commitment. In the last year the vegan range has made up 7% of our total sales, and is showing steady growth. In the last 6 months we have also launched a brand new website, making it easier for individual customers and wholesale customers to order from us online.
What are your thoughts and feelings in being named a finalist of the Confectionery Entrepreneur of the Year award?
Yes, I’m also a Confectionery Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in the Food & Drink Heroes Awards 2022! It’s a real achievement to have gotten that far as there were over 700 entries, and I’m up against some of the best entrepreneurs in the industry. I think people engage with my brand story as it started with just me in my kitchen almost 15 years ago, and has grown organically since. We’re now stocked in over 450 outlets throughout London & the South East so I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved and the team that got us there.
The Food & Drink Heroes awards are judged by an extensive expert judging panel, with a variety of food & beverage experience. As a brand, it’s important for us to be recognised by foodie awards like the Great Taste, but also just as important to be valued for our business contributions too.
Where do you see Simply Ice Cream in 5 years’ time?
With our new production site we’ll have increased capability to continue making our small batch ice cream but on a slightly larger scale. I don’t think we’d ever give in to production machinery as it’s just not who we are as a brand, and I think our customers come to us for a bespoke handmade product.
Longer term I’d love us to be sold in more restaurants and hotels, as well as national attractions. The ultimate goal is for us to be present in any venue that wants to sell good quality, natural ice cream made in the UK. The retailers and outlets we partner with tend to align with our own ethos and brand positioning.
Editor: Kiran Grewal firstname.lastname@example.org