Sometimes farm diversification is something that just happens. Occasionally the movement across to another product or service is not a conscious decision or plan, but an opportunity created organically, within the business. Not that moving in a different direction is easy: it must be grabbed with both hands and worked hard at in order to succeed and move the business forwards, onwards and upwards.
This happened to Nick and Joan Hardingham, soft fruit growers from Alder Carr Farm, near Needham Market in Suffolk.
In 1987 a bumper crop of raspberries led Nick to dig out an old family recipe for ice cream that his mother had made many times over the years. The simple recipe of fruit, cream and sugar proved such a success in the farmshop on the site that they were soon asked to supply other food outlets. They have never looked back.
Since its inception the company has moved from the kitchen table to its own dedicated kitchen and the Hardingham’s oldest daughter, Stephany, has returned to the farm to take over the company, setting it up as a separate business, Alder Tree Ltd, in 2007. Now run entirely by Stephany and her partner, Graham Sayell, they plan to continue growing the business whilst remaining true to their original ideals - using simple, natural, local ingredients to make delicious products.
There has been a conscious decision to stay away from the major multiples, despite approaches by several of the big five supermarkets. This is a small step towards helping independent retailers to keep something for themselves as increasing artisanal products hit the shelves of the large supermarkets. Quality food purveyors are often overlooked but it is their expertise that can get a brand well known among the people who really care about what they eat.
Stephany comes from a family where the independents and ethical trading have always been supported; her Mother, Joan, started the first famers market in the East of England, only the third in the UK, and campaigns for local food and farming. Stephany has a Masters in Business and the Environment and prior to settling back in Suffolk she worked for Groundwork West London, a charity providing business advice to companies wishing to improve their environmental performance, and Coral Cay Conservation, doing a biodiversity survey of the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. This interest in the environment leads through to the business with the support of the World Land Trust and ethical ideals; carbon balancing, using fairtrade spices and FSC packaging.
The product name has proven something of a challenge to this small producer. As the recipe uses only cream and no milk, it does not contain the 2.5% milk protein, found in greater quantities in milk than cream, to be defined by Trading Standards as ice cream. Modern, industrially produced ice creams, can label themselves such through the addition of powdered milk, and milk protein, regardless of the other ingredients used, leaving their products hardly resembling the ice creams of our grandparents’ youth. The Hardinghams, however, decided not to change their simple, natural and traditional recipe and instead saw this as an opportunity to promote their quite unique, and deliciously creamy products, and so the name Cream Ice was born.
Alder Tree still maintains the traditional method and all batches are made by hand onsite at the farm where the majority of the fruit is grown. From the single raspberry flavour first produced there has been an increase to 15 different flavours with seasonal limited editions too, all made using English fruits – everything from quince to pumpkin!
The products have been awarded many accolades including several Gold in the Great Taste Awards and, most recently, the Quality Food and Drink Awards Local Q in 2010, coming second overall in a competition entered by many of the large multiples, which makes the award an especially great achievement.
Alder Tree can be found at independent retailers across the UK. For more information, please visit the website at www.alder-tree.co.uk.