From the cow to the cone: Dairy Farmer turns ice cream artisan

Putting aside a career in advertising to return to the family farm to settle down and raise kids, marketer Tim Marwood soon discovered to make ends meet he would need to open a side business. What better venture for a former dairy farmer than an artisan ice creamery?

A third-generation farmer, Marwood was under no illusion as to how tough life can be living off the land. He understood early on he would have to use his creativity to come up with a way to inject some much-needed funds into the family farm. He tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) the light bulb moment occurred when he realised he wouldn’t have enough money to buy a crucial piece of farm equipment. Rather than fall into doldrums, Marwood applied ingenuity to come up with an idea to attract more income.

“One day I was looking into buying a tractor. I realised we really couldn’t take up a loan as we couldn’t do a budget forecast. We didn’t know what price we were going to receive for our milk. I knew then we needed to add value to guarantee a set price for our product,” he says.

With that, Timboon Fine Ice Cream was born.

A dairy farm producing its own brand of ice cream may not seem like such a big deal today but in 1999 when Marwood and his wife Caroline decided to test the waters of the fledgling business, artisan ice cream was an unknown venture. Armed with clipboards and some strategic questions, the couple and a few friends set about canvassing locals on what they would want from a specialty ice creamery.

Timboon serve up ice cream on the go

“We headed off to the 12 Apostles site to ask visitors what their expectations of an artisan country ice cream maker were,” adds Marwood.

Whilst initially keen to offer exotic flavours such as Rhubarb and Shiraz, Marwood and his team of amateur marketers soon found demand was for a simpler fare. Their research showed that instead of unusual flavours, most people wanted a classic chocolate, vanilla and strawberry option.

With the launch flavours decided upon, the couple went on the hunt for second-hand equipment to fulfil their dreams. They maxed out their credit cards to the tune of $25,000 to get Timboon Ice Cream up and running. The next challenge was how to get their product out to market. With the big supermarkets notoriously difficult to crack, the couple decided to go the independent route and began selling their wares from a custom-built van at local markets and festivals.

One scoop is never enough

“The advantage of festivals is you’re only paying rent for a day or two, so it’s not a big commitment. We couldn’t believe how well we did – we made more money than expected in one weekend. At that point, we’d hit upon the way to make the business work.”

Fifteen years later and business is still booming. Marwood’s courage to break into the artisan ice cream market with Timboon has paved the way for hundreds of imitators. These days Marwood says the dairy industry is better regulated and ice cream is a popular treat no matter the season.

Great ice cream is worth the wait…

“We started with the farmers market mobile operation model to grow the awareness of our brand and drive direct revenue,” Marwood says. “This has moved to licensing other mobile operators and now we have just opened our own visitor centre in Timboon, complete with a ‘Sundae School’ for an interactive ice cream experience.”

After 17 years in business, Marwood said the visitor centre was a long overdue move.

“Having a local shop was important to us, but we also wanted to give visitors the opportunity to learn about the true ‘cow to cone’ experience. This is also a great way of making brand advocates out of our guests too. We have been very fortunate to have a lot of happy ice cream eaters visit us since opening at the beginning of the year,” he adds happily.

The key to success: It’s all in the taste testing

Marwood continues to look for opportunities to grow Timboon. His advertising background has ensured he’s always eager to employ the latest marketing tools.

“It always amazes me how people respond to ice cream and sundae images on social media vs a landscape picture for instance. So we have used Facebook and Instagram predominantly to share our ice cream journey with everyone. It’s fabulous to get immediate feedback from a post,” he says.

Meanwhile, Marwood strives to deliver his customers a wonderful experience.

“Ice cream is fun, you are always serving some joy over the counter. It’s comforting and it evokes childhood memories. People are always happy when they are lining up to indulge themselves,” he proclaims.

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