Amanda Stansfield – Granny Gothards Ice Cream Artisan
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos supplied by Amanda Stansfield
Budleigh Salterton based Amanda Stansfield is a veritable force of nature. With a winning personality, contagious energy and a seemingly never-ending well of positivity to draw from, she is one of the most electric and vibrant professionals that I have met in my career so far. She is also the owner and Managing Director of multi award-winning Granny Gothards Ice Cream and PROice Products – artisanal ice cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt products that are leading the way in their field in terms of innovation, creativity and quality.
I recently visited Amanda for a sit down and a chat at their production and storage facility in Willand, Devon and I was bowled over by how friendly, passionate and open Amanda was. I also tried various flavours of their incredible produce and was chuffed to walk away at the end with a few pots to take home and share with my family too. I really do love my job!
Originally a Manufacturing Accountant by profession, Amanda found herself working for a business close to the Gothard farm in Stoke St Gregory. Granny Gothards was an existing ice cream brand, made in small batches using milk from their farm but, in early 2012, the Gothard family decided that they didn’t want to continue running the ice cream business.
In what is a perfect example of the ‘can do’, or rather ‘why not?’, attitude that Amanda embodies, she and the existing Production Manager of Granny Gothards (a co-worker called Donna) decided to make the Gothards an offer to buy the brand name and necessary equipment required to secure Granny Gothards as a going concern as well as signing a milk purchasing agreement to continue buying their milk from the same farm.
That was seven years ago, and the company has grown exponentially in that time. In the early days, Donna taught Amanda how to make ice cream and they went about creating their first flavours and taking them to market, predominantly through Farm Shops and the like. Amanda explained,
“I thought everyone was a customer at first! However, I quickly realised that retail was not a sustainable route to market for us. I realised that ours was a very specific product which fitted a really niche market. It is a handmade and artisanal product, made using eggs, milk and cream which creates a Crème Anglaise Ice Cream – the only one of its kind in the South West of England to our knowledge. We only use real ingredients, including original liqueurs and spirits, fresh fruits, brand-name confectionary and fresh botanicals. No pastes or additives in sight!”
“We came to a cross roads and were faced with a clear choice. We could’ve either done one of two things. We could’ve stuck to what we were doing – creating something that we were passionate about, that we believed in and that we knew stood out against our competitors – or we could’ve joined the ‘big boys’ and started mass-producing ice cream, led by quantity margins, rather than quality products. We made our choice, stuck with quality over quantity and, ever since, have built the business from there, with passion, quality and creativity at the heart of everything we do.”
This changed their whole marketing structure, moving away from broad communications to a more focused and targeted approach. It also meant choosing to focus less on the retail market, controlled in various ways by Ben & Jerrys and Häagen Dazs. In a moment of frank honesty, Amanda explained,
“With their economies of scale and choice of ingredients, there is simply no way that we can produce ice cream for the same price that they sell theirs for. That isn’t necessarily a problem though as our price difference is justifiable when you look at the quality of ingredients that we choose to use. It just means that we are more geared towards the commercial market rather than retail.”
When I asked Amanda about how she justifies their premium price point, with a twinkle in her eye she picked up her phone and buzzed through to a colleague, asking her to bring some sample pots in. In a show of admirable confidence, she handed me a teaspoon and waited for me to try a couple of flavours. After omitting an involuntary ‘food giggle’ at the taste of a brand-new flavour which I am sworn to secrecy about, I looked up to see a kind and gentle ‘I told you so’ sort of look on Amanda’s face. Through a warm grin, she exclaimed,
“People don’t tend to care so much about price when you give them something truly excellent. We just let our product do the talking rather than worry about justifying ourselves or getting caught up in price wars with competitors. Once chefs or buying managers put the first spoon of our product in their mouths, they know instantly if they are going to buy from us or not. We just have to create amazing products and let them do the talking for us.”
This, in itself, has led to a key part of the Granny Gothards and PROice approach. One of the reasons that they have almost 150 flavours is due to Amanda’s ‘can-do’ attitude when it comes to making unique flavours of ice cream, often in collaboration with other brands. Many of their flavours have been born out of an ‘Amanda, could you make this particular flavour to go with a dessert I am designing’ conversation with a Head Chef. To name but a few, you can enjoy Guinness, Jägermeister, Tilda Rice Pudding or Thatchers Gold Cider flavour Granny Gothards ice cream (all made in official collaboration with the other brand and using only the actual drinks in the recipe of course, not essences or imitation flavourings).
And with 145 flavours to choose from, it is clear that this openness to collaboration has led to the perfect marriage of choice and quality. There is something for almost every palate in the Granny Gothards and PROice recipe books, including flavours that have been custom-made for particular clients, including high end restaurants and private jet catering firms. It was obvious that this approach is focused around current food trends and they have some truly surprising and adventurous flavours, including Rosemary, Edinburgh Gin with Samphire and Beetroot & Horseradish. Not your run of the mill ice cream flavours I’m sure you’ll agree.
Whilst unpacking some of the company history for me, I was intrigued to hear Amanda tell me about the company’s expansion into international markets. Particularly her retelling of the Granny Gothards journey into Dubai was fascinating.
After seeing an uplift in sales to private jet catering firms, Amanda realised that Dubai represented a fantastic potential market for Granny Gothards – high net worth individuals, a thriving expat community and 365 days of sunshine. So, Amanda went about researching possible routes to market and distribution firms. She found a particularly strong distributor and, in her own words, “stalked him on LinkedIn for about three months” before he agreed to a meeting. So, she booked her tickets and flew to Dubai armed with nothing except her flawless passion and energy for her products. Due to the obvious temperature-related challenges of transporting ice cream, she was unable to take samples with her but, after meeting him, came away with a signed distribution contract with an initial order of 3 tonnes of ice cream. That’s right…three tonnes.
This incredible first international order took the common challenge that ice cream businesses face of seasonality away from Amanda. It did however present another challenge, that at the time she only had one ten-litre machine which worked on a twenty-minute cycle when making ice cream. This pronounced limitation meant that Amanda and her two colleagues at the time had to work around the clock for three weeks to fulfil the order – taking it in turns to work shifts for twenty-one consecutive days.
This successfully fulfilled order gave Amanda the confidence and the revenue to re-invest into the business and she purchased a twenty-litre machine doubling their production capacity overnight. This has grown over time to the point where Granny Gothards now use six twenty-litre machines at their production facility.
Further to their launch in Dubai, a series of fortuitous connections and introductions has led to Granny Gothards becoming a premium UK brand now bought and consumed all around the world. They now work with a variety of high-quality distributors around the world and they ship their products using frozen shipping containers which are run by generators in transit – from door to door.
This growth and uncompromising approach to artisanal food production has led to them being rightly presented with numerous accolades and awards, including Best Ice Cream Product of the Year (Taste of the West Awards), Manufacturer of the Year (Somerset Business Awards), Best Food Product (Somerset Life Food & Drink Awards) and a Board of Trade Award.
It was at one of these awards that one of the judges came over to Amanda and asked, ‘Do you make protein-based ice cream?’, to which Amanda replied, ‘No, but if I did, would you buy it?’. He paused and said, ‘As a matter of fact, yes, I would as I own a chain of gyms and I’m looking for a premium Protein-based Ice Cream to offer to my clients’.
Amanda turned to me and, with a twinkle in her eye, said,
“I can’t say no to a challenge, so the long and short of it is that, in September 2017, PROice – our protein-based range of ice creams and sorbets – was born. They are all totally natural, high protein ice creams and sorbets. No supplements or chemicals. All-natural artisanal excellence. We wanted to keep the calorie count as low as possible for the more health conscious of our clients, whilst also packing as much protein as possible into each serving. We went on a mission to remove as much sugar as possible from the recipe and found that, by replacing sugar with more fruit, each pot got healthier and tastier. A true ‘win win’!”
In terms of future plans, it seems that prospects are bright for Amanda and the Granny Gothards team. Having now successfully upscaled an originally small-batch artisan product, their aim is to crack the retail market with PROice (with aspirations for it to be stocked in places like Wholefoods and Holland & Barratt) as well as cementing plans to manufacture under licence in the US and Canada.
Furthermore, they are on the brink of launching a collaborative Dog Ice Cream (again, all-natural and fit for human consumption) as well as supporting the opening of Ice Cream parlours in parks around the region – in West Bay and Budleigh Salterton with a third in Vivary Park, Taunton planned for opening just before Easter.
It was clear from the first moments of our conversation that Amanda has a ‘no compromise’ attitude to her produce. She hasn’t cut corners in any part of her business and it really shows. From the smile on her colleagues faces to the taste of the ice cream as it hits the roof of your mouth, Granny Gothards is infused with excellence, creativity and joy as a company.
Go on…grab a pot, grab a spoon and thank me later!
Follow Granny Gothards Ice Cream on Twitter – @GGothardsIceCream – to keep up to date with their amazing journey.