Are you a woman who felt you ought to follow a particular professional path to ‘please’ a parent? If so, there’s a lot that might chime about this impressive entrepreneur’s story – and her decision to find her own ‘happy’.
Here’s our chat with the female founder of foodie business Simply Ice-Cream.
On the very day we get to share in our chat for Eloquently Her, Sally Newall is preparing for a birthday party.
It’s not just any birthday. Indeed, it’s her own 50th celebrations, and the chance for her to host some 40 members of her friends and family at home in Kent.
Ordinarily, you’d conjure images of a decadent table, adorned with a winter-time roast, accompanied by several bottles of cheery fizz. And yet, all my brain is drawn to consider about these particular celebrations is ‘what flavour ice cream will the birthday girl serve?’.
You see, Sally Newall is the tours de force behind artisan ice cream brand, Simply Ice Cream.
She’s the accidental foodie entrepreneur who had all intention of becoming a doctor, and yet ended up leading multiple businesses, before settling into a world of creamy deliciousness as an artisan ice-cream maker.
“It’s certainly not been a straight forward route, by any stretch,” Sally begins.
“But then, I doubt most women these days find themselves picking a particular career and staying in it for the rest of their working life – especially not if they have a family. Priorities change along the way.
“I know that for me, regardless of whatever I’ve wanted to achieve throughout my life, I’ve always come back to realising that my greatest achievement is having my children, and that therefore, they should come first in all of my decisions.”
Married for 23 years, Sally is the incredibly proud mother of four children – ranging in age from 15 to university years.
Perhaps it’s partly due to her own relationship with her mother, that she feels so drawn toward being the right maternal role model – not only through her caring nature and ‘availability’ for their needs, but through accomplishing independently in her profession of choice.
“My Mum had set up a catering company back in 1983 and made a real success of it,” Sally explains.
“She was really driven and very good, even back in those days when we thought less about traceability, at making food on-site and sourcing ingredients very locally.
“In fact, it’s with her that I very first started making our first family ice-cream recipe, when I was about 14.
“The ingredients in that base have been what have gone forward into Simply Ice-Cream in more recent years.”
As a respected brand in the South East in particular, but also with specific national contracts with the likes of the Co-Op, Waitrose and Morrisons, Simply sets the world of ice-cream ablaze (if that’s possible for a frozen ingredient!) with its array of perfected and often peculiar flavourings.
Just in time for Christmas, the company has rolled out the likes of gingerbread, as well as Christmas Pudding and caramelised brown bread. We’re also loving the sound of its best-selling Heavenly Honeycomb Crunch, and its quirkier Kentish cobnut fudge flavour.
It’s no small success for a business which only really got off the ground in 2005.
“My grand plan was to find something which would allow me more time with the children, and which I could start from home,” laughs Sally.
“My husband and I still joke about how naïve we were to think that would give us the answer.
“The truth is, yes, it seemed like the ultimate ‘fix’ as parents to four demanding children, but you forget how much work you need to put in to a start-up foodie venture where every farmers market or food festival is an opportunity for you to have a presence – and usually at weekends.”
At the time, Sally had also recently taken on her mother’s catering company. This meant not one but two food enterprises having a pull on her time and energy.
It’s a long way from the world of medicine, which she could so easily have fallen into, at the belief that it was ‘very likely’ something her father would have wanted for her.
“My Dad was a doctor, and so I think I’d grown up thinking that perhaps I would follow in his footsteps in some way,” she admits. “Life unravelled in a strange set of circumstances, where I made the decision to take a year out before university to go to Australia.
“They were crying out for chefs at the time, and I had food skills so found work quickly as I’d got my city and guilds qualification.
“I had it in the back of my mind I would return home to study eventually, but then I started a course in Chemistry while out there in Oz, with the thoughts of medicine still very present.
“Eventually, I changed tack altogether and came home to the UK to do law academically, because I’d begun to realise that I was trying to pursue someone else’s path and not my own.”
A short studying detour then gave way to picking up the reins of the family catering firm, and to beginning perhaps the most important career of her life so far – motherhood.
“It was as soon as I’d become a mum that I started to consider every day for what I could do to make sure I was providing for my children in every sense,” she says with great contemplation.
“Of course, I was a proud woman who wanted to be working as well as my husband, but I also wanted to be around for all the ups and downs of childhood.
“One thing led to another, and our masterplan around an ice-cream company evolved.
“As I say, it certainly wasn’t smooth, didn’t give me loads of free-time, and didn’t mean that I didn’t have occasional thoughts of ‘what have we started?’, but I’m so proud of how it’s grown.”
And grow, in scale, profit and reputation, it certainly has.
Whilst it is still based at their home in Kent, the company has become more and more recognised with each passing year, and gained a great number of foodie accolades and notable acknowledgments.
It would of course be remiss not to ask Sally about the very ‘current’ (some might say ‘relentless’) dialogue we’re seeing play out in the UK about sugar and sweet things.
Does she feel that she’s pushing a product which really has no place in today’s diet? Or is it as important as ever that we’re allowed to enjoy those indulgences for what they are – luxurious and delightful treats?
“I’m a really firm believer in that we should eat as naturally as possible, that we should enjoy food, and that we should have some foods every day, and others, like ice-cream, as more of a treat,” she insists.
“While I understand why sugar is getting a bad press, I think the thing we should all be reminding ourselves, is that we simply do not know the impact of some of these less natural substitutes. It’s definitely those which would be concerning me more as a mother of a developing child right now.
“What I stick to as an ethos for Simply Ice-Cream, is that we know EXACTLY what we are putting in our products.
“Yes, we use real double cream, and we use sugar and real fruits and we source as locally and as British as we possibly can.
“Our bodies just can’t contend with the kinds of fillers which people are starting to throw at them in a bid to ‘avoid’ more naturally indulgent ingredients. I worry far more about the potions and powders which are being pumped into foods these days.”
As if this ‘hot topic’ wasn’t enough for one business to be having to navigate right now, there is of course the matter of Brexit.
As a retailer in the UK, looking to develop markets overseas, is this a troublesome time for Simply and artisan foodies like it?
“The retail landscape is certainly very different to how it was when I was a child, and even to when we launched,” she accepts.
“It’s made us be very creative about how we’re evolving our business plan. This means identifying other products which are easier to order online, as well as constantly seeking new outlets for our brand, and pushing beyond Europe to the likes of the Middle East and Far East for important trade discussions around Export.
“With Brexit discussions as they are, and so many shops vulnerable on the high street, I feel we need to be constantly looking and exploring.”
Latest moves at Simply HQ have included exciting collaborations around a range of teas which perfectly sit with ice-cream, and beautiful crockery – ideal for your ice-cream tea-party.
“I’m enormously proud of what we’ve developed through those collaborations and it gives us some great things to be focusing on in the new year,” Sally says, beaming.
“It’s all still very exciting to me – even as I reach the grand old age of 50.
“I think there’s even more contentment and self-appreciation when you reach this age. I’m certainly more grateful than I have ever been for what I have, what I’ve achieved, and for my incredible family.”
And with that, it’s time to wish Sally a very happy birthday and part company so that she can finish preparing her ice-cream focused celebrations. Here’s to a birthday party which is more about Dreamy Vanilla than ‘disappointing 80’s Vienetta’, and far more Maple and Walnut, than miserable Neopolitan.
Come to think of it Sally, do you have a spare seat for a few extra sweet-toothed ice-cream fans?