King of Cool: innovation in ice cream

King of cool
King of cool

The ice cream sector may have reached saturation point, but this quirky start-up is the perfect example of how there is always room for innovation in the marketplace…

The best start-ups are surely founded on passion and Mark Murphy, the man behind Cream & Country ice cream, has it by the bucketload. A chef by trade, with a background in luxury country house hotels, Murphy decided he wanted to branch out and do something for himself, wife Joanne (now the company’s brand manager) and their two young daughters.

Initially, he came up with a dessert concept, but had to go back to the drawing board when manufacturers wouldn’t work with him because the concept proved to be impractical – “it was so radical, it would have interrupted their industrial processes too much.” Out food shopping with Joanne one day, they both realised that none of the ice cream on offer really appealed and thus the seed was sown that there might be room for a brand that was more contemporary and less twee.

Using an inheritance from his mother to fund the business, who had died while he was still at school, Murphy’s first challenge came when choosing a name for the new company. He originally alighted on “Yummi” before discovering a brand in the US had the same designation, so they had to change it. It was a learning curve, but a positive one – “I’m a firm believer in the fact that there may be hurdles to overcome, but once you’ve got past them it can only make you stronger.”

In the end, the Cream & Country name resonates perfectly with the brand’s values, helping to convey the all-important idea of quintessential “Britishness”, an intriguing cross between the traditional country house brigade and trend-setting hipsters. Inspiration for the brand’s visual identity was drawn from a bar in fashionable Brighton that had a striking monochrome graphic on the wall, which Murphy felt was a good fit for the look he wanted to create.

Choosing a commercial partner for the product was another interesting experience: the bigger players didn’t sit well with Cream & Country’s ethos, so in the end Murphy went with a family-run firm based in Hampshire; the company had lots of capacity as it had just doubled the size of its facility, an important consideration as he needed the business to be scaleable . “I thought I’d bypass that classic start-up stage of making ice cream in my garage,” he jokes.

Even though he concedes that the ice cream market is “flooded”, he believes his brand has found its own niche: “It appeals to Generation X – it’s something genuinely new, experimental and innovative.” That is a claim borne out by the way that Cream & Country was recently picked to join the ranks of Cool Brands, which publishes a barometer of Britain’s most aspirational brands based on the collective opinions of an Expert Council that includes the likes of actor David Harewood, model Jodie Kidd and designer Kelly Hoppen, as well as 2,000 members of the public. “It was always one of our goals to get nominated,” says Murphy, “we just never thought it would happen so quickly, it’s a real honour.”

He’s especially pleased since very few food brands are recognised in the collection, with most of the others being fashion companies or tech products. Asked why he thinks the company got the nomination and he’s convinced that it comes down to how the brand is portrayed – “we don’t go in for your run-of-the-mill food photography with a Photoshopped scoop of ice cream and a dew-covered strawberry. It’s all about genuine flavour and [locally sourced] British produce.”

In the next instalment of our King of Cool series, we take a look at the importance of forging partnerships…