Smooth startup for ice cream maker

When a master chef decided to start a business making premium soft-serve ice cream and dairy-free desserts, he chose Abel® ERP to deliver the automation, flexibility and quality control he needed to compete in New Zealand and overseas.

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Dairy Products NZ CEO Mathew Metcalfe

When a master chef decided to start a business making premium soft-serve ice cream and dairy-free desserts, he chose Abel® to deliver the automation, flexibility and quality control he needed to compete in New Zealand and overseas.

Every kid dreams of owning an ice cream factory. But as an experienced chef and food-service designer, Dairy Products NZ CEO Mathew Metcalfe knew the recipe for his success came down to three ingredients: premium niche products, meticulous attention to quality, and the staff and technology to produce them efficiently.

“We knew there was a growing demand for healthier ice cream products, especially dairy-free and gluten-free alternatives,” Mathew says. “But we saw an opportunity to provide a wide range of premium products with real ingredients that were as simple and natural as possible.”

Two years ago, from a 3400-square-metre purpose-built facility in Auckland, Dairy Products NZ began creating Custom brands of ice cream products for the food service and retail sectors, including soft serve, frozen yoghurt, gelato, custard and real-fruit sorbet and is now also expanding the scope to include whipping cream & nutritional supplements.

Constructed to the latest dairy export and food safety standards, the clean-room factory looks very impressive with its shiny stainless steel tanks and pipes, blending machines, HEPA filters and medical-grade compressed air. Inside the production rooms, milk and other raw ingredients are turned into long-life liquid and powder mixes using ultra-heat temperature or dry blending processing.

Once packaged, the mixes are shipped and stored without cooling until they’re dispensed from soft-serve machines in retail shops, restaurants and cafeterias around the world.

As a startup, Dairy Products NZ has relied on a small but experienced staff to run its Takanini factory, including experts in food and safety compliance and heat-treatment methods. But to streamline and control their workflow, DPNZ needed a Business Management System to optimize their manufacturing and production systems. They chose Abel.

“Abel has given us the confidence and flexibility we needed to focus on products and customers, and take on new markets.”

“We certainly shopped around but Abel offered the core manufacturing tools we needed, like batch control, quarantine, traceability and production scheduling,” Mathew says.  “Abel was also the most engaged company we met. Their attitude is very can-do. A whole team of Abel experts came out to understand our specialist equipment and ensure we got the best out of our system, and we have.”

Quality control and risk management were two essential requirements, especially since some products needed to be vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free or Halal. Food exporters, particularly of dairy products, also require strong traceability measures to comply with stringent international regulations.

“We use more than 400 ingredients and manufacture up to 12 tons of product a day, so allergen management, tracking and quality control were critical to our success,” Mathew says.

Abel automated many manual processes in Dairy Products NZ’s production workflow to create the levels of quarantine, control and traceability they needed.

Abel’s batch tracking played a big part in the system’s success, particularly:

  • Color-coded bins to segregate dairy and non-dairy ingredients.
  • Bar-coded bags of pre-weighed ingredients.
  • Touch screens and hand-held scanners – instead of paper – to record and track materials and bins of finished products.
  • An onscreen color tree that visually confirms to production staff that the correct ingredients have been added and the job is completed.

“We relied heavily on Abel for their expertise. They examined our business processes, they came up with the right solution and they delivered,”

Mathew says. “By automating many of our processes, we’ve not only reduced the risk of human error but also increased our overall batch efficiency by 40 per cent.”

The unique bar-code identity also gives Dairy Products NZ the end-to-end traceability it requires. Now if an issue occurs with an ingredient or batch, they can easily track its location in the warehouse, on the production floor and to individual customers, allowing them to act swiftly in the event of a recall.

“As a startup we’ve built our business and our factory from scratch and have demanded a lot of support from the Abel team to implement and configure Abel to meet our growth,” Mathew says. “The Abel team has been very proactive and responsive. We have a solid, reliable and agile Business Management System that seamlessly manages all aspects of our business – across two independent manufacturing processes, all four brands and our contract manufacturing work.”

When he’s not in the office, Mathew uses Abel’s mobile applications to raise sales orders so there’s no delay at the warehouse with dispatching orders. Dairy Products NZ also uses Abel’s financials to manage accounts, production orders, reporting and, in the near future, will switch on Abel’s forecasting functionality.

Two years after launch, Dairy Products NZ is selling its products in New Zealand, Australia, Pacific islands and China, and is currently negotiating distribution in Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and the United States.

“We’re a growing business and Abel is helping us to grow,” Mathew says. “Abel has given us the confidence and flexibility we needed to focus on our products and customers, and take on new markets.”

For Mathew, that means keeping his focus on quality. As a former executive chef on luxury yachts and MasterChef judge, he knows full well the importance of serving the best product possible to customers.  That’s why you’ll often find him by the soft-serve machine at the back of the factory sampling a chocolate ice cream or plum sorbet. Not every kid grows up to taste success like this.