If you’ve ever wondered where the delicious ice cream you enjoy at Lighthouse comes from, make sure you read this week's blog from Lighthouse Communications Officer Susie ...

"There really is no better way to start your working week than with a trip to an ice cream factory – even if it is on one of the coldest days of the year so far! But that’s exactly what happened this week, when I visited New Forest Ice Cream at their Lymington headquarters with my colleagues Sara (Marketing) and Craig (Duty Manager). 

Craig recently discovered that New Forest Ice Cream has been supplying Lighthouse with ice cream since it first launched in 1983 – making them our longest-standing supplier. With Lighthouse celebrating its 40th birthday this year and New Forest Ice Cream its 35th, it seemed a fitting time to get our heads together and celebrate our long and successful partnership, as well as looking to the future.

We pulled up in the car park at 11am and despite a few sat nav high-jinks en route there was no mistaking we were in the right place – the new production facility which the company moved into 5 years ago is an impressive sight. On arrival we were warmly greeted by company Directors and twin sisters Niki Jenman and Christina Veal, whose parents Lawrie and Sue founded New Forest Ice Cream back in 1983. After growing the business from a small cottage industry into today’s successful operation, Lawrie and Sue retired 3 years ago, leaving things in the capable hands of their daughters.  As we were to discover, New Forest Ice Cream is a real family affair, with Niki and Christina working alongside their cousin Dave, too!

With introductions out of the way we were offered a tour of the factory, which of course we jumped at. All jewellery had to be removed first and foremost (who wants to find an earring in their ice cream?) and health screening forms completed, before we were instructed to wash our hands, use sanitiser and don hairnets and white coats (hygiene is paramount). We then set off to explore, feeling a little bit like Charlie Bucket and the Golden Ticket winners from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Our Willy Wonka for the day was Production Director Dave Bishop. There is literally nothing about the ice cream manufacturing process that this man does not know, and we were quickly overawed by his enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge. 

Our tour started in the pasteurisation room, where we were faced with an impressive array of huge metal vats. Dave explained that the ice cream making process begins when the fresh milk arrives at the factory and is tested to ensure it is safe for human consumption. The milk is then heated to a temperature  of 72⁰C for 20 minutes to ensure all bacteria is killed. From the vat it passes through to a homogeniser, which puts the milk through a very fine and dense filter to break down the mix. The milk is then rapidly cooled to 5⁰C and the mix passes into an ageing vat, where flavours and colours are added.

At this point we moved on to the next part of the factory; the bit we couldn’t wait to see - the bit where all the ice cream is made! There was another change of coat and hairnet (different colours for different areas of the factory), rubber shoes crocs-style to wear and more hand washing and sanitising – absolutely nothing is left to chance here. Dave explained that the mix is pumped into an ice cream freezer as a liquid and comes out as soft ice cream at a temperature of around -5⁰C. This is then pumped into tubs, along with any inclusions such as raisins or chocolate chips, and is then passed through a metal detector before being coded with a date and best before. The finished tubs of ice cream are packed into trays or boxes and stored in a blast freezer at -24⁰C ready for delivery to customers. Our final part of the tour took us to the company’s mammoth storage warehouse which takes up half of the premises and really is something to behold. It was also EXCEEDINGLY cold and my phone (which I was using to take pictures) actually stopped working despite me only being in there about 3 minutes. I’m relieved to say it’s working fine again now!  To give you an idea of just how much ice cream the company makes – it’s somewhere in the region of 1.5 million litres a year. That’s a LOT of ice cream! And of that ice cream, in the last year at Lighthouse we sold a whopping 36, 923 tubs to our customers.

What really struck us was the absolute cleanliness of the factory – you could have eaten your dinner off the floor (if you wanted to!) which is always a reassuring thing to see where food preparation is concerned. We quizzed Dave about how the company comes up with new flavours and it really is a case of “suck it and see” – nothing is off limits when it comes to experimenting. Baked bean ice cream and Sunday lunch ice cream (including all the trimmings) have both seen the light of day  - although we believe both were wholeheartedly rejected when it came to the taste test!

We returned to the warmth of the main offices and resumed our chat with Niki and Christina, who then brought out two new ice creams for us try along with a challenge to name the flavours. Both were absolutely delicious and we eventually deciphered that one was Peach Melba (so fruity and creamy!) and the other Rhubarb & Ginger (with real pieces of ginger in it!)  The three of us couldn’t agree on a favourite so you may just be seeing both flavours make an appearance at Lighthouse sometime in the not too distant future …

Our discussions turned to how we can jointly celebrate our milestone birthdays, and I’m pleased to report there are exciting promotional projects in the pipeline for Lighthouse and New Forest Ice Cream – watch this space!

Time eventually came to say goodbye and head back to Lighthouse (although we could have happily stayed all day and done a lot more taste testing!) It was fascinating to see our two organisations come together after so many years of trading and we’re looking forward to working closely with Niki, Christina and their fantastic team over the coming months."

By Susie Carver Published 8 February 2018