How Icelandic artisans are inspiring Grow Yorkshire

Britain’s most innovative farm diversification is an example to us all

Not taking “Nay lad” for an answer led the Dales own Sam Moorhouse to be voted Britain’s Most Innovative Farm Diversification for his Hesper Farm Skyr Yoghurt, despite a lack of any business training.

Sam had spent his entire childhood listening to family concerns about the milk price. So when he read about Icelandic cows and the thick protein rich yoghurts they produced, he had an inkling he’d found a solution. But it took dedication, and, yes, learning about business planning, sales and marketing to realise his ambition.

Sam told his story to an appreciative audience at the 2018 LEP Conference, and it’s just the sort of story that we plan to tell more of through Grow Yorkshire.

Grow Yorkshire is a collaborative approach to growing the incomes of farming and food businesses, in a bid to mitigate any reduction in agricultural subsidies, and to use the stimulus of Brexit to drive positive change. It’s a big challenge, as the LEP area alone benefits from over £200m of Common Agricultural Policy subsidies each year, but by working together to make more of the great work already happening, and by telling more stories like Sam’s, it’s a challenge we’re confident we can meet.

To inspire many more businesses to change and grow, we need to tell great stories to show change and growth are possible. Sam is a great ambassador for that. He would be the first to confess his total ignorance about what he was getting into. But he did know the family business, and the problems it faced with volatile milk prices. And he had a decent grasp of trends in the market, such as consumer interest in alternative sources of protein.

Interest piqued, Sam hopped on the plane direct to Iceland and learnt first-hand how Skyr was made from Thorarinn, an original Skyr producer, coming home convinced it was the future.

Sam and Thorarinn in Iceland

Despite making and successfully taste-testing his own batches, a must have prototyping stage for any new venture, Sam still wasn’t able to convince his Dad. Which is understandable, because they needed serious amounts of capital to invest in production, and Dad had never even heard of Skyr, much less being willing to bet the family business on it.

A further knock back from Yorkshire Bank led to the realisation that some business basics were needed, so Sam learnt the bare bones of business planning, in order to put forward a better proposal.

Finally he was getting somewhere. His business plan convinced Dad to put the farm down as security for a £200,000 loan from the bank, and their first production facilities were built.

Selling into local farm shops was a hit right away. Their first month saw sales three times the forecast and growth continued steadily. Within the first year they had already borrowed a further £250,000 to improve their production processes, to increase consistency and shelf life.

As well as production facilities, Sam had also invested in a stand out brand, which helped tell a great story about where the yoghurt had come from, and the benefits it provided. It was only a matter of time before people started talking about Hesper Farm Skyr, and the Awards weren’t long in following.

Everyone loves a success story, retailers included, and winning awards provided an introduction to Booths supermarkets. Sam confessing to being daunted at having to meet their buyer, having no experience in such negotiations, but it proved another big step forwards for the business which has really prospered as a result.

This is just the beginning for Hesper Farm Skyr, with new flavours in the pipeline, and another increase in production, ready to take their place on supermarket shelves nationally.

Not everyone can be Britains Most Innovative Farm Diversification, but change is possible in every business, you just need to be open to inspiration striking.

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