Jude’s ice cream: From abandoned cow shed to supermarket staple

The company claims to be the first ice cream brand to launch a salted caramel flavour

Beth Timmins
Wednesday 05 April 2017 12:30 BST
James Wright and Chow Mezger, two MDs at Jude's Ice Cream
James Wright and Chow Mezger, two MDs at Jude's Ice Cream (Jude's Ice Cream)

What do you get when you take an empty cow shed and a group of hard-working, ambitious people who are passionate about local produce, being charitable and fantastic dessert?

If the timing is just right and you throw some creativity into the mix, you could well end up with an ice-cream that’s threatening to challenge some of the best established brands in the market.

Meet Theo Mezger.

In 2002, he took his very first batch of homemade “Jude’s Ice Cream” across the field from his farm in Hampshire to sell in the local village pub.

Since then, the small sweet treat, named after Mr Mezger’s wife, has made a major impact. It’s distinctively striped tubs line shelves in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose right across the UK. Wholefoods and Ocado stock Jude’s too.

In an interview with the Independent, Chow Mezger, Theo’s son, one of the joint managing directors of the business, said that although Jude’s has already celebrated immense success, its aim is still to become “Britain’s best loved, nationally recognised ice cream brand”.

“We believe that there is space for a British challenger brand to compete against the multi-nationals,” he said.

His father first had the idea for the start-up when he was planning what he could do with the empty cowsheds on his Hampshire farm, in the village of Easton.

While working for Nordea, a Nordic bank, in London, he had cultivated a dream of starting his own business.

Artisan ice cream making actually began as a hobby but after Theo Mezger quit his job to make it full time, the business grew to supply more than 30 local pubs and restaurants.

Two years after that first tub was tried and tested, Alex— Theo’s oldest son—joined the company full time and had the idea of expanding to the top-end restaurants in London, breaking into the competitive world of fine dining and haute cuisine.

He said he had noticed a demand for premium British ice cream from restaurants that had to import from suppliers in Europe, and took advantage of that niche in the market.

In 2008, Jude’s launched a special take-home tub to be sold in theatres and cinemas and the rest - as they say - is ice cream history.

“Our principal strength lies in our innovation”, says Chow Mezger.

The company claims to be the first ice cream brand to launch a salted caramel flavour in 2010, inspired by a trip that Alex Mezger took to France.

Salted caramel flavoured ice cream is now sold by almost all of the major ice cream brands.

Chow Mezger explains that each new flavour has to pass a family taste test before it is released to the public. A “products team” meets once a week to sample all the latest flavours that have been trialled and only those that are unanimously deemed tasty enough progress to launch.

Jude’s currently stocks 16 different flavours including ‘Hot Toddy’ and ‘Ginger Spice’. They’ve won over 25 Great Taste awards.

In Sainsbury’s, sales of Jude’s Ice Cream increased 200 per cent year on year in 2016 according to Chow Mezger.

The company has recently installed a new dairy to keep up with this demand and meet their aim of expanding annual turnover by 20 per cent.

Ivan Darby, a bank manager who works for Lloyds, which is helping Jude's to finance its latest expansion, said that the company has managed to set itself apart by “constantly evolving yet always staying true to its roots".

And if what they’ve achieved in the last 15 years is anything to go by, then it looks like that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

The Mezger family still manage the business single-handedly and all of the ice cream that hits the freezers and plates of Britain’s households and restaurants is still made on site.

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