Belfast briefing: It’s a vintage year for ice cream despite the clouds

Companies hope business boost isn’t just a fair weather phenomenon

Tue, Jul 23, 2013, 01:00

Will Taylor is the last person in the North who will complain about rising temperatures and hot weather.

In fact Taylor has been positively basking in the sunshine – at least when it comes to his business.

As one of a growing band of artisan producers in Northern Ireland, he could not have asked for a better break this summer. Six years ago Taylor founded Glastry Farm Ice Cream as part of a farm diversification project at his family farm in Kircubbin, Co Down.

Today it is an award-winning business that produces a range of 13 luxury ice cream flavours – all from Taylor’s pedigree herd of cows – and four sorbets.

Glastry Farm is also developing a new frozen dessert ice cream with another local farm-based business in Bangor, Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt.

According to Taylor, ice cream is a 52 weeks-a-year business and not just a warm weather phenomenon.

One of his busiest times of the year is Christmas but he says the recent spell of sunny weather has made it a “vintage year” for Glastry Farm Ice Cream.

Since 2007 Taylor has worked hard to build up a specialist retail business which supplies some of the North’s top chefs and leading restaurants and hotel groups. He also supplies independent retailers and coffee shops.

But he is nursing an ambition to expand the business and export Glastry Farm Ice Cream farther afield.

Taylor is considering an investment project which might also enable him to start pitching for contracts with large supermarket groups at home and in the Republic.

He may still be a fledgling entrepreneur but Taylor is not the only one hoping that the business climate, regardless of the summer temperatures, will continue to improve in the North.

According to Mark Nodder, the president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, some “green shoots of recovery” are at last beginning to “sprout” locally.

The latest economic survey to measure the general health of the private sector in the North also suggests there is evidence that manufacturing production, construction output and retail sales all returned to growth last month.

The Ulster Bank Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) highlighted that for the first time since late 2007 overall levels of new work grew in June.

There has also been confirmation that there was a sharp drop in the number of people claiming jobless-related benefits in Northern Ireland last month.

Latest government statistics show that the number of people claiming unemployment support fell by 800 – the largest monthly decrease in 11 years – to 63,000 in June.

So does this all add up to a rosier outlook in the North?

Ian Coulter, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland, is warning that perhaps it might be time to step out of the sun and take a reality check as far as the economy is concerned.

“What we are seeing is a stabilisation at best. While any slight adjustment is very welcome we need to put it in context. We had a long fall and, while it is positive news that the economy is stabilising, it is stabilising at the bottom.

Legacy issues
“The big question is – how are we going to get growth in Northern Ireland? We have a lot of legacy issues to contend with from the collapse of the housing market and household debt, to the high number of people who are economically inactive [estimated to be 559,000] – that’s the reality,” Coulter says.

He believes the North desperately needs a springboard for growth and, in the absence of any other potential “corporate transfusion” that will create jobs and investment, Coulter says the local business community has no choice but to stick with the lower corporation tax campaign.

The fact that 7 per cent of the workforce in Northern Ireland have no choice but to claim financial support while they try to find another job highlights just how fragile the economic recovery is. It is a start but no one is predicting there will not be clouds ahead.

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