Interviews

The frozen yogurt producer that’s cooler than cool

7 min read

18 November 2015

Temperatures might be falling, but frozen desserts are increasingly becoming a year round favourite among consumers with frozen yogurt a particularly strong new entrant into the market.

Boosted by its image as a low fat alternative to ice cream, the value sales of frozen yogurt are estimated to have grown by a cool 117 per cent between 2011 and 2014 to reach £13m, according to market researchers MINTEL. 

Frozen yogurt is seen as a healthier alternative to ice cream by as many as two in five ice cream and frozen yogurt users, it said.

One player in the market that is benefiting from this trend is Lick, a fast-growing small company – two of whose founders started in the “froyo” business by making and selling frozen yogurt from a trike in their school holidays. Ky Wright and Owain Williams have always been into food and healthy eating and have been long term fans of frozen yogurt over ice cream.

Neither has a conventional business CV and fellow co-founder Thomas Lavis comes music industry background, having worked in A&R for an independent record label as well as being head of fiction at Waterstones bookshop in Bath.

“I think the fact that we haven’t come from a strictly business backgrounds is an advantage,” said Lavis. “We never wear suits or speak in business jargon, and this makes meetings a more informal, human experience. The experiences we’ve been through at Lick are worth more than anything we could have learned before, I think.”

Wright and Williams started Lick in Brighton with money that they’d made selling frozen yogurt on the beach over five years, to which they added a bank loan. They then opened the country’s first frozen yogurt shop in the town. Not until later did they take on investment. Earlier this year they successfully completed a pitch on Crowdcube, which raised £300,000 and attracted a large group of enthusiastic supporters.

They’ve since closed the shop to focus on selling through other retailers and in 2012 they launched nationwide, winning a Great Taste Gold Award. Production moved from the factory under the shop into the only carbon neutral dairy in the UK. Their retailers included selected delis, health-food stores, independent cinemas, schools and universities and in 2013 they managed to get stocked by Ocado.

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The two are proud of the way in which they’ve promoted the brand imaginatively. The founders appeared as experts on the CBBC programme Trade Your Way To The USA and Lick become the youngest ever brand to be selected as a Cool Brand. Last year the company moved into their “Lick Warehouse”, which has a stage for the bands, a classroom for its new “Lick School” talks, a yogurt room for inventing new Licks and an art studio which is available to artists for one month residencies.

“We spend a lot of time putting on events and collaborating with interesting people,” said Lavis. Everything they do is filmed and put on-line. They also have a record label and their first album comes out next week. “It isn’t traditional marketing, but people hear about Lick eventually through something we’re up to. On top of that we do a lot of sampling events, because the product itself is incredible. Word of mouth is important to us too. Our froyo is the only 100 per cent yogurt froyo in the world, which we know is something people like to tell their friends about. We don’t have the budgets to compete with our competitors Unilever and R&R, so we have to be creative to remain relevant.”

In fact it wasn’t until some of the big food manufacturers launched frozen yogurt products that retailers and consumers began to take the category seriously – and even then the Lick team had to prove to retailers that they could produce adequate volumes. Needless to say, competing with bigger brands has been a challenge.

“We knew this before we launched into Sainsbury’s and so we’ve made sure we think differently to those guys to remain not one step ahead, but maybe one step to the side,” said Lavis. “An advantage of being in a small team is that we can react quickly to situations. We don’t have to have meetings with bosses or analyse a load of data – we decide quickly what feels right and get on with it. Plus, I think there’s now more love in general for smaller brands. People will pick up something which they haven’t seen before and check it out, rather than dismissing it and going for the most popular name. Maybe it’s easier now that it was 10 or 15 years ago.”

Lick has just started to export abroad and it’s now devoting time and resources to its international markets. It recently exhibited at Anuga, one of the world’s biggest food trade shows which is based in Germany. “Next year we go to Dubai, Hong Kong and probably some more,” said Lavis. “We just want to grow and grow, and continue to do things we like – more froyo products, more albums, more events.”