The sweltering weather has resulted in a bumper crop of ice cream on several farms around the country.
Many are working flat out to keep up with the demand for freshly frozen farm ice cream which is coming from retailers, restaurants, ice cream shops as well as vendors with carts who are selling scoops in the fields at festivals and on the beaches.
Since the start of the hot weather the phone has been “hopping off the hook” at Linnalla Farm in the Burren while sales have also been rising at Baldwin’s Farm in Waterford and Boulabane Farm in Tipperary.
Brid Fahy of Linnalla farm says its been the best summer for ice cream since the business was set up seven years ago.
On-farm ice cream production has been going on in Ireland since the mid 2000s when dairy farmers identified it as value added product with good potential.
Several of the farms involved responded to an advertisement in the Farmers Journal by a Dutch ice cream machinery manufacturer.
The idea caught on in several parts of the country and there are now at least 12 farms involved in making ice cream.
“On farm food enterprises started with farmhouse cheeses in the 1970s and after that came yoghurts. Making ice cream is the most recent development and some producers are now producing new and interesting variations such as frozen yoghurt and dairy free ice cream,’’ says Bord Bia Frozen Food Sector manager Stephanie Moe.
Baldwin’s and Boulabane as well as Rossmore Farm in Laois were among those who started in the mid-2000s while Featherbed Farm ice cream came on stream in Wexford in 2009.
Some are small operations such as Valentia Island Farm House which has been selling ice cream to holiday-makers in the summer since 2009. Barba Goat’s Farm in Westmeath is another small operator making goats milk ice cream.
Linnalla farm in the Burren operates on a larger scale selling to Tesco and Dunnes and supplying supermarkets and restaurants in five counties. Baldwin’s Farm in Knockanore has a local business selling to restaurants and shops in Waterford and Cork while Boulabane Farm in Tipperary produces ice cream which sells nationally to cafes and restaurants through a distributor.
Irish farmhouse ice cream accounts for a small percentage of the premium ice cream market here which is dominated by the likes of Haagen Dazs and Ben and Jerry’s. (Premium ice cream itself accounts for a small percentage of the overall ice cream market). But according to Ms Moe farmhouse ice cream provides valuable supplementary income for some while others have used it to create successful small business.
She says that in the recession there is support for local ice cream and that some of the farms have take a creative approach to marketing and are selling at events, festivals, weddings as well as shops and restaurants. Bord Bia has provided support with brand development and events to a number of the producers.
While many farm house ice cream manufactures concentrate on local sales, Linnalla Farm is now looking at export possibilities. Brid Fahy, who runs the company with her husband Roger, says plans are being made with the assistance of Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland to develop sales in the UK and France.
Meanwhile, sales in sunny Ireland are growing.
“Sales have rocketed in recent weeks and we have been shipping out ice cream as fast as we can make it,” says Ms Fahy adding that 13 seasonal workers are now employed to produce it.
At Boulabane Farm in Roscrea ice cream sales have gone up by close to 300% since La Russe Foods took charge of distribution last October. This has left Michael Cantwell free to focus on production and for the summer months he is making 1,500 litres a week.
“At present we sell mainly to restaurants but have plans in place to develop retail sales and we are talking to a couple of multiples,’’ he says. While sales have risen this summer he says the impact of sunshine on catering sales isn’t as strong as it is on retail sales.
At Baldwin’s Farm in Waterford, Thomas Baldwin estimates that sales this summer have gone up this summer by about 40%. He employs two part-time staff to help make ice cream and is now selling any extra stock he has fairly quickly.
“The business is growing a little every year and we are growing our customer base but the sun this year is a big bonus,’’ he says.
The biggest increase in demand he’s noticed is coming from shops and from people selling scoops from ice cream carts at events and at the seaside.
A farmer supplementing his income with ice cream he admits to being a little bit conflicted: “I need rain for the grass but sunshine to sell the ice cream.’’
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