Friday, May 27, 2011

Why this ice cream story's got me hot under the collar

Sometimes, the day job throws up stories that are just too compelling to ignore. The coming together of Beechdean Farmhouse Dairy Ice Cream with that "iconic" (a phrase often ascribed to famous brands that no one buys anymore) Loseley is one such story, the more for me because it is tinged with a very personal poignancy.

My previous company had worked on a comprehensive redesign of the Loseley brand at the time it was purchased by Hill Station, one of the several proprietors to have tried, and failed, to restore the brand to its former glory. On joining, one of my first actions was to contact Beechdean, whose packaging - a mish-mash of badly-executed ideas - I had come across in the supermarket.

I went to meet Andrew, the owner, at a major industry event at London's Excel. One thing led to another and before long we were working on packaging design for the brand's newest product. We produced some good concepts, built up some momentum, and it looked like the start of a beautfful relationship, with much grand talk of turning Beechdean into a real challenger brand. The newly-designed product launched to great feedback from the trade and consumers.

And then everything just ground to a halt.

Beechdean's focus shifted to its motor racing business, culminating in a doomed joint venture with Nigel Mansell. The Beechdean ice cream brand remained exactly as it had been - fragmented, old-fashioned and lacking innovation. Several distribution partners - notably the Albert Hall - switched to other brands. Meanwhile the likes of Hagen-Dasz and Kelly's of Cornwall went on exploring new ground

Notwithstanding the myth that ice cream sales depend on hot weather, this acquisition could herald stormclouds over the company’s North Dean HQ. Owner Andrew Howard’s pledge to make new purchase Loseley “an uncompromising super-premium product” depends on sustained investment and a clear strategy. Otherwise, regardless of the weather, the deal could bring both brands to melting point.

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