Innovating ice cream… East meets West

Posted on 12 Dec 2018 by Maddy White

If it’s a tub to yourself, a classic cone, or a novelty sprinkled product of the 90s, ice-cream has dominated the frozen dessert market for decades, particularly in the West. But what happens when flavours from the East are blended?

The global ice cream market scooped sales from 13 billion litres of ice cream in 2016 according to global research company, Mintel, and with the UK consuming around nine litres per person each year, perhaps luckily there is more than just vanilla on the menu now. 

A wave of Asian inspired flavours have journeyed their way into the frozen treat; black sesame seed, lychee and matcha green tea are a few of the newest flavours to be introduced.

Kwan expects turnover to double next year - image courtesy of Yee Kwan Ltd.
The business is based in Sheffield – image courtesy of Yee Kwan Ltd.

Who is in charge of this East meets West fusion?

Yee Kwan Chan, founder and CEO of Yee Kwan Ltd.

After appearing on popular TV show Dragon’s Den in 2015, ice cream maker Kwan Chan secured an investment from Deborah Meaden for a 30% share in her business, which has seen it catapult.

Based in Sheffield, the entrepreneur said to The Manufacturer, “it has not been easy”. She continued: “I’m not from a food manufacturing background, so for the first couple of years I was really learning the whole process of how to manufacture ice cream and understanding the market.”

Available in Ocado, Harvey Nichols, Whole Foods Market and many restaurant chains, Kwan Chan says that there can only be more innovation within ice cream. “In the industry there are a lot of innovations, low sugar and high protein for example, but for flavours, I think we are leading and setting the trend.”

The Asian flavours market is booming

After travelling around Asia with her husband it was this trip that inspired Kwan Chan to set up the business nearly a decade ago, as she could see there was a gap in the UK market.

“I think people are more aware of Asian flavours now. There is definitely an interest in South East Asian cuisine, it has really seen a surge in popularity. It is becoming increasingly easier for us to market our product because of this.” The dessert makers even supply all of the Wagamama restaurants in the UK and Europe. “It’s a really good fit, both our brands compliment each other.”

The popularity of a flavour like Matcha, this a powdered green tea grown and produced in China and Japan, has rocketed over the past few years. Its bright green colour can now be found in desserts, hot drinks and juices marketed for their anti-oxidants. It is just one example of an increasing integration of Asian flavours.

She says of how important the sourcing of these ingredients are. “It is really important we source very high quality ingredients from reputable suppliers, we spend a lot of time on new product development looking at different flavour combinations. We source ingredients from East Asia, the coconut milk, the black sesame and green tea are from Asia. The milk and cream are locally sourced.”

Yee Kwan Chan is picture - image courtesy of Yee Kwan Ltd.
Yee Kwan Chan is picture – image courtesy of Yee Kwan Ltd.

High business aspirations

Kwan Chan says the business has “high aspirations.” She explained, “We want to grow and move into other international markets, particularly China. The majority of our products are made in Sheffield, but now we are looking to start producing desserts [for Wagamamas] as well, East Asian inspired cheesecakes. They actually encouraged us to do that.”

Not only has Kwan Chan developed Asian inspired flavours, the business has also developed dairy-free products, to align with current market trends that have seen the organic and vegan markets soar. 

Aligning to consumers demands like dairy-free products and producing desserts to fulfill the needs of food service markets, Kwan Chan expects turnover to double next year to nearly £2m, and in the next five years to reach £5m. 

What is Yee Kwan Chan’s advice to others who wish to start their own food business?

“I would say research the market, it is important to make sure you have a really, really good product as that is your unique selling point. It needs to have a point of difference in the market because it is so competitive nowadays.

“You need determination, resilience, and basically, not to take no for an answer, it is just keep on going and stay positive.”