Jack speaks with Ky from cult froyo brand, Lick, about the frozen yoghurt business, being exceedingly entrepreneurial, beating Ben and Jerry’s (on yoghurt content at least) and benchpressing.
As usual there are serious and not serious questions.
Turns out Ky isn’t a fan of grenades or flags, but sure knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the biochemistry of yoghurt…
J: What first got you guys selling frozen yoghurt? You started at age 17, right, eventually fitting it around your uni studies?
K: We were still in school when we started the first year. We wanted an alternative to the usual summer jobs, like working in a bar, which all paid minimum wage. We had recently started experimenting making frozen yogurt at home so we bought an old ice cream trike and gave it a try. It went amazingly well so we continued to run the business in our summer holiday during our time in Uni. We expanded each year and by the last year we had 2 trikes and a whole beach, including an ice cream van, food kiosks, a bouncy castle and deck chairs – we were employing 13 of our friends and family.
Where you always so entrepreneurial?
I started my first business in junior school, when I must have been about 9 – I filled shoe boxes with the conkers from the bottom of the garden and sold them for £2 each. Between then and the frozen yogurt business I had a few other business ventures including: car valeting, gardening, cookies, chopped fresh fruit packs, soft drinks, pottery stall, precious stones dealing. The film Kids Incorporated was a big influence.
What’s the great British public got to know about Lick and frozen yoghurt? If you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear, what would you tell them?
It is the only frozen yogurt in the world made of 100% yogurt (Ben & Jerry’s is just 7.5%). It is also the only frozen yogurt made by a group of real friends.
What’s the frozen yoghurt business like on the inside? Could you give us a typical ‘day in the life’?
Wake up. Do press ups. Shower. Leave the house with Owain (we share a house with 2 other school friends). Walk to the shop (this is just 2 streets away). Drink a black coffee. Reply to some emails and make some calls. Go down to the development kitchen and work on some new froyo flavours. Eat lunch. Drop into our designer’s studio to discuss new packaging. Back to the shop to do some more emailing and calling. Drink a beer with Tom and Owain. Bench press. Go home.
Where do you guys manufacture the yoghurt? Could you talk us through the process of how you source your ingredients, assemble everything and bring us the finish product?
We used to make everything in the small factory under the shop. We now have to use larger manufacturing facilities. We use a couple of places across the country – we give them the recipe and train to follow our process (which we developed and which is different from how everyone else makes frozen yogurt). I then oversee production and check every production batch for quality. We source all of our ingredients in the UK and always make sure that everything fresh. For example, the elderflower that we use in our strawberry & elderflower tubs is picked locally for us by our school friend Wross, who has his own wild food foraging company, called Finders Eaters.
How hard is it to get your products into stores and supermarkets?
We put a huge amount of work into making the sure we have the best product on the market. Getting it into stores after that was relatively easy – we would just give them the product to try and 9 times out of 10 they would stock it. Supermarkets has been harder because we are up against massive companies with enormous marketing budgets. Fortunately our product is so much better than our competitors that eventually we sell more without any marketing budget and then it is just a matter of time before the bigger retailers are interested.
Have you noticed Froyo becoming more popular in recent years, in the UK?
We opened the first frozen yogurt store in the UK. When we opened, with the exception of American tourists, no one really knew what it was so we spent a lot of time explaining what was going on to most of the customers who came in. Eventually people would just walk in and say “I’ll have a medium Lick with 2 toppings please” like this was the most natural thing in the world to be saying, and that felt great. With our tubbed product, that is available in stores, most people who haven’t tried Lick before will either have never tried frozen yogurt or will have had some bad frozen yogurt from our competitors so the challenge is to get them to try it. We believe that frozen yogurt, when made properly, is actually way better than ice cream, and it just happens to be better for you. Therefore we see no reason why frozen yogurt should not be bigger than ice cream one day, so there is a lot of room for growth.
What’s the craziest lick fan submission, or scenario in you’ve seen in which Lick was a part?
We have fans send us pictures of Lick stuff they had made all the time. One of biggest fans knitted us a jacket to go over a lick tub, to keep it cold for the walk home. It included a really detailed Lick logo and took her about 50 hours to make. We actually ended up giving her a job in the store.
How do you come up with flavour ideas and names?
We are all really into food so we are constantly experimenting with tastes that go well with yogurt. We go for simple, natural flavours like banana & honey and strawberry & elderflower which compliment, rather than mask the yogurt flavour.
I read how you pioneered an entirely new means of creating frozen yoghurt. Do you guys have a biochemistry background? Is it trial and error? How’d you get so good at this stuff (asides from experience…)?
We spent a long time (over 10 years) working on trial and error. We then happened to be introduced to the father of a friend of my sister’s who is now retired but is one of the food industry’s top development scientists and who worked for 30 years in NPD at Unilver – he has provided the scientific basis for our development work which has enabled us to make the world’s most delicious frozen yogurt.
What’s been the toughest part of the whole experience, and what have you learnt from it?
We started working 13 hour days, 7 days a week when we had the summer business in Wales. We got through it by telling our selves it was for just a bit longer. It is now 13 years later and we keep telling ourselves it is for just a bit longer. We have learnt to keep on keeping on.
I also saw that you closed your store in Brighton recently (I visited it a few weeks back) – So, what’s coming up next for Lick, is there going to be any expansion or fun things for us to look out for?
The store has its last day on the 29th September, when we are having a big closing party with free froyo, live bands and fun art things. When the store is closed we will have more time to put on live music gigs, pop-up shops, secret cinema events and music festivals. We are also about to put on the first ever “ultimate Vibes Frisbee Tournament” which is going to be an annual event – this year some of the teams entering include Innocent Drinks and The Guardian.
And we always ask two silly questions…
At what point do hand grenades become a necessity?
If you had to found a new country based around Lick’s principles, what would you call it, where would it be, what would it’s capital be called and what would it’s chief export be?
I do not believe in nations and am fairly confident that one day there will just be humans all living respectfully and compassionately and generally just being grateful for their time here without any need for flags or grenades.
Image Credit: Oleg Pulemjotov