Northern Bloc, the UK ice-cream supplier, has its sights on growing its domestic business in the retail and foodservice channels, sanguine about growing competition from lower-calorie products.
Halo Top, the US ice-cream firm that has shaken up that country’s sector with its low-calorie wares, entered the UK earlier this year, prompting Unilever to launch its own reduced-calorie products.
Last summer, Northern Bloc, a fledging ice-cream manufacturer in the UK that started business in 2015, announced plans to increase its production capacity, a project the Leeds-based firm has undertaken to build on a business with listings at grocers The Co-op and Waitrose and foodservice accounts won with a focus on flavour.
Speaking to just-food, Northern Bloc director Josh Lee said the company “was in a good spot”, still gaining independent-retail and foodservice listings, while it had expanded its portfolio with the launch of vegan range this year.
Asked whether he was concerned about the recent activity in the lower-calorie part of the market, Lee said: “I still genuinely think the majority of people who go to buy ice cream want an indulgent treat. My personal view of the low-cal ice cream is the taste is not right. And also you pick a pot and it’s half the weight it should be because they’re putting so much air in it. I’d like to think there is certainly a growing group of consumers within in the UK who want natural products, they want really great quality food, they’re watching Masterchef and seeing interesting flavours and that’s something we offer.”
By the end of 2019, Lee said he wants to see Northern Bloc’s sales reach “GBP1.2m (US$1.6m), GBP1.5m”. Some 70% of the company’s sales are made in the UK’s foodservice channel, with the remainder from retail. Lee insisted he wants to see Northern Bloc grow both sides of the business but suggested the fact foodservice accounts for a majority of its revenue was “a sign of the times in retail”.
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“Lots of similar businesses are in the same boat in terms of marketing funds for retail having to be so high these days. You’re up against Unilever having just launched a new range, there’s Halo Top, lots of new brands coming to the market. And we’re definitely not a low-cal ice cream. There’s a big hype going in the low-cal world. I’m glad I’m not in it. I couldn’t afford it,” he said.
Northern Bloc, meanwhile, has started to export its products, working with Ramsden International on opening up markets outside the UK. “We’ve had some exported to the Middle East, some to Europe. It’s still early days,” Lee told just-food at the Natural & Organic Products Europe trade show in London.
“Europe is a great opportunity for us, a lot of ice cream eaters throughout the year. What’s been interesting here at the show is a lot of Nordic countries are massive ice-cream eaters. There’s been a lot of interest to see if we can go that way as well. It will be interesting to see how that develops over the next six to 12 months.”