When running a family food business, you face many challenges that can be hard to resolve with experience.

Food business Suffolk Meadow ice cream have been running since 1989 and are used to dealing with difficult situations.

However, despite the experience they have gained, it doesn’t make running the business easy.

Katherine Manning, owner of Suffolk Meadow said: “I have never ran a business before. There’s lots of challenges you face everyday when you run a small business and you’re never quite sure what you’re going to come up against.”

Katherine has only been running the business for about a year after taking over from her mom and dad.

Recently, one of her competitors has gone, meaning that she has had a huge influx of new inquiries.

“It is amazing. But then I think, can I supply them all?” She said, “I don’t mind working harder and putting more hours in but I don’t want to let anyone down.

“They are my customers and they are expecting me to deliver a product. I have to keep the supply chain going.”

But that hasn’t been the biggest challenge she has faced.

“Expansion is always the biggest challenge because there’s not an endless pot of money. You haven’t got investors. So when a piece of machinery breaks down, it’s a large investment.

“The biggest challenge is having the right equipment and making sure you’ve got the money in the bank to do it,” added Katherine.

Another concern with running a family business is the prospect of working and family conflicts.

“It’s about trying to take the emotions out of it. It’s a really hard thing to do but you need to have a discussion without the feeling.

“You wouldn’t walk into a room with your boss asking for a pay rise and get cross with them because they didn’t give you the answers you wanted,” said Katherine.

Fiona Graham, a spokesperson for Institute for Family Business UK (IFB UK) agreed that you have to separate family from the business, “You have to be quite disciplined.

“You have to still make everything official and not let family issues creep in. You have to be clear of people’s roles to avoid any issues, hold meetings etc.”

Another challenge Katherine mentioned was the change in demands from her customers.

“People are now looking for zero sugar ice creams or ones without stabilisers. A few years ago, I would go to all the big shows and think, ‘how am I gonna do this?’” She said, “But then I realised, there’s always gonna be someone that wants traditional ice cream.”

Due to being a small business, Katherine is able to make ice creams in small batches to test things out and produce a product for a small number of customers.

This flexibility has allowed her to not only experiment with flavours but also perfect her sugar free, vegetarian and vegan options.

Apart from that, the ice cream recipe at Suffolk Meadow hasn’t changed in 30 years.

Belgian Chocolate ice cream from Suffolk Meadow

To support Katherine through all of this, the Broadland Food Innovation Centre has been there to lend a helping hand.

Katherine said: “They’ve been amazing actually. I just wish there were two of me so I could go on all those free courses because they are really great. I just haven’t got the time.”

The Broadland Food Innovation Centre does courses on PR, marketing and general business courses to help businesses in Suffolk and Norfolk.

“Keeping the business running efficiently is the key to survival and they’ve been really good. If I get really stuck this summer, I know the short term and longer things I can put in place. I can start putting it in place for next year,” added Katherine.

Business Advisor of the Broadland Food Innovation Centre, Nick Smith said: “When you’re growing your food business, the decision making never stops. We recognise that the challenge is knowing how to make the right decision at the right time.

“We provide fully-funded business support to food & drink businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk to help you make those sound decisions that lead to good results, whether you are starting from scratch or have been established for a number of years.”

Once you have gotten through the challenges, there comes successes for the hard work.

“When I get through every summer, it’s a massive achievement. If everybody’s happy and all the machines are still working, that’s an achievement in itself,” joked Katherine.

She finished by saying: “You can’t run a business by yourself. You’ve got to have a great team behind you, and I do have a great team that works really hard.”

If you run a food business in Suffolk or Norfolk and would like support from Broadland Food Innovation Centre, follow the link here for more details: https://www.foodinnovationbroadland.com/support