Brymor is forging ahead with ambitious plans to become Yorkshire’s premier ice cream producer. Lizzie Murphy met boss James Ashford.
When you work in the fickle world of ice cream, the weather can have a huge impact on both business and your mood, which is why James Ashford cancelled our interview two weeks ago in favour of a last-minute holiday.
“The weather was so poor I just jumped on a plane and went to Majorca,” says the managing director of Brymor, as we sit outside his ice cream parlour in the Yorkshire Dales.
“I have to work my schedule around the weather, which is unpredictable. I booked the holiday on the Monday and I was gone by Tuesday morning.”
The 28-year-old joined Brymor in 2015 after spending a year selling adventure activities in New Zealand. He already had a fondness for the ice cream producer.
“I grew up in Masham so Brymor was my favourite ice cream company,” he says. “Whenever we passed I’d always be nagging my parents to stop.”
Brymor, based at High Jervaulx Farm, in Masham, Wensleydale, is a profitable ice cream parlour, wholesaler and mobile business with a turnover of £1.2m.
Ashford, who joined the company as business development and marketing manager and took over as managing director nine months ago, has ambitious plans to turn it into Yorkshire’s number one independent ice cream manufacturer within eight years.
Brymor is well-known for its luxury Guernsey ice cream which has been made on the farm since 1984 using its own herd of Guernsey cows.
Central to the firm’s expansion is the creation of a new budget brand, Yorkshire Ice Cream, which was launched in more than 70 Tesco and Morrisons’ stores across the region earlier this year.
“I’d say we are about number five or six at the moment. I’m pinning a lot of my hopes on the Yorkshire brand,” says Ashford. “I want Yorkshire Ice Cream to become a staple in every household, like Yorkshire Tea or Wensleydale Cheese.”
The ice cream is made in the same way as the Guernsey brand but uses cheaper milk made from Holstein Friesian cows.
“It allows us to play in a market place we’ve never been able to before,” says Ashford.
He adds: “So far it’s going very well. The crucial time is the next three months. If we get bad weather in the summer holidays it does hurt.”
Following a £20,000 investment in new space and machinery, Ashford plans to grow total production by 43 per cent this year, from 350,000 litres to 500,000.
Ashford admits that rising milk prices over the last 12 months have dented Brymor’s bottom line, with cream also affected. “Particularly last year, when we were doing all our costings ahead of the new brand launch, prices were very low,” he says.
“Cream was £1.50 per litre last year and now it’s £2.75. We’ve absorbed the cost. We’re still making a decent margin but we have to go through the tough times to get the volume.”
Only four people work in the Brymor factory, two of whom double up as delivery drivers. “When I first arrived, I was quite amazed at how small and economical the production was,” Ashford says.
The ice cream parlour, which has an annual footfall of 150,000, accounts for half the company’s turnover. The other half is made up of its wholesale division and mobile business, which attends festivals and county shows.
Ashford has a 12-month plan to turn the dated ice cream parlour into a modern tourist destination by extending and updating the cafe, creating a large indoor play area and increasing the size of the car park.
“Originally, the parlour was kept small to deter people from staying too long but we want to change that and make it a day out,” he says.
Brymor, named after its original owner Brian Moore, was established in 1984 when milk quotas forced the dairy farmer to diversify and turn his spare milk into ice cream.
He and his wife, Brenda, would make the ice cream on their small farm in Weeton in the morning then sell it in the afternoon from a hut at the farm gates.
It became so popular that the couple had to move and they built a new manufacturing plant and parlour to cope with demand.
When they both passed away in 2011, Brymor was taken over by their son, Robert and his wife, and their granddaughter, Nicola.
In 2014, following the untimely passing of Robert, the farm and business were sold separately. A local businessman bought Brymor and, continuing the family legacy, Nicola Moore remains part of the management team as operations director.
Brymor’s cows found a new home on a farm down the road and their milk is delivered to the factory every morning.
Ashford, who describes himself as outgoing and honest, is currently single and enjoys playing rugby, skiing, and diving in his spare time. He admits he knew nothing about ice cream when he arrived at the firm.
“I knew the new owner of Brymor through my family and he offered me a role in marketing and business development,” he says. “It’s been a steep learning curve.”
Brymor was making 40-50 different flavours in five different sizes when the business was sold. The management team has reduced the number of products it makes to 35 and the number of sizes to three.
The business was also predominantly led by the production team with very little organisation and Ashford’s challenge was to turn it into a sales-led business. “That was quite a big cultural shift,” he says. “We now plan everything.”
But Brymor’s biggest challenge, he believes, is the marketplace. “The variety of products on offer and the price at which companies can knock out ice cream is highly competitive and we are a small producer,” he says. “But we are very positive about the future.”
James Ashford Fact File
Title: Managing director of Brymor
Date of birth: August 9, 1988
Education: Sedbergh School; History degree at Kings College London
First job: Working in my father’s antiques business in Leyburn
Favourite holiday destination: New Zealand
Favourite film: In Bruges
Favourite song: Anything by Oasis
Last book read: The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins
Car driven: Golf GTI
Most proud of: My degree