A special look inside every child's dream - an ice cream factory

Behind the scenes at Jelly Belly ice cream factory
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Vasco Sousa, Jelly Belly ice cream, Paul Rason, Dubai, Ice cream factory

The equipment is absolutely gleaming. Glinting silver as far as the eye can see, except when you catch your own reflection in the polished steel. While we are slightly disappointed there is no chocolate river, it’s hard not to be excited in an ice cream factory.

Chief innovation officer (i.e. the Wonka of this factory) Vasco Sousa is our golden ticket to the sights and sounds of a real, working ice cream factory. Tucked away in Dubai’s industrial area Al Quoz, the building itself is unassuming, but contains every child’s dream.

Two dreams perhaps. As more than just an ice cream factory, we’re in the world’s first Jelly Belly Ice Cream factory. The popular American jelly bean beloved by US President Ronald Reagan and legions of children since 1897.

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To understand just how big a deal that is, Jelly Belly Ice Cream COO Paul Rason tells us “it’s the first time that Jelly Belly has outsourced an edible product since 1897 to a third party company. We’re an Emirati company making a new gourmet ice cream product and exporting it to the world from Dubai”.

In under two years, Jelly Belly Ice Cream has gone from an idea to a fully-fledged concept with multiple stores and 50 flavours of ice cream – all approved by the Jelly Belly team in America.

Sousa, known as Dr Ice by the team, is the catalyst for the transformation. Bringing over three decades of ice cream making experience to the company, including at big boys Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s, he has produced a level of gourmet ice cream unseen certainly in the Gulf – Caterer Middle East did our best Augustus Gloop impression as we tried a large number of them to check. Famous Jelly Belly flavours like Very Cherry and Panckes and Maple Syrup are among the 50 ice creams on offer, while completely new creations from the mind of Sousa give it an original feel.

When it comes to creating an ice cream flavour, even one based on an existing Jelly Belly bean, Sousa admits that he doesn’t stick too strictly to the flavour of the bean.

He says: “If you ask me are they exactly the flavours of the jelly bean, or the texture? No, not really. What we really took from the Jelly Belly world was the gourmet factor. Jelly Belly in the confectionary world is the gourmet jelly bean.

“So when I think about a new flavour I think about the real thing. You have some iconic Jelly Belly flavours like Very Cherry but if I do an ice cream I’m profiling the taste of the real cherry, a true to life inspiration.”

The extent to which Sousa and Jelly Belly Ice Cream go to to achieve that quality is surprising. That carrot cake flavour ice cream? It contains real carrot cake. The apple pie flavour? They bake apple pies at a local bakery and work them right into the mix. Using local suppliers and real produce, the flavours are as close to life as you can imagine.

Unsurprisingly, getting that standard of quality was vital for Jelly Belly. Herman Rowland, chairman of Jelly Belly Candy Company was actively involved in the creations, Rason tell us.

“Herman approved all the flavours pretty quickly. He was very happy that we got the immersive flavour experience because Jelly Belly as a brand is all about depth and breadth. Vasco did an amazing job, he got that right very quickly and understood what we needed to get it right. So Jelly Belly are very happy about it.”

The same standard goes from the ice cream itself to the parlours where they sell it. From the beginning, and after extensive market research, Rason says he “wanted to make it a quantum leap above the standard. We wanted to make sure that it resonated well with millennials and that it didn’t look like a franchise.”

By the end of 2018 there will be eight Jelly Belly Ice Cream stores in the UAE, with another eight already confirmed for 2019 – but with Rason telling us that the total number is expected to be “closer to 20 outlets by the end of next year”.

He adds: “We want to look at other markets outside of the UAE and our objective is by Q1 or Q2 next year to announce a new market for the brand” within their already agreed territory of MENA, Turkey, India, and South Africa. However, Jelly Belly Ice Cream also has first refusal on opening further stores under the brand globally, so the potential to make it a worldwide operation is a very real one.

As it stands, despite their ambitious growth plans, Rason says that the current factory will last them “at least a good solid five years easily”. But thoughts are already turning to a new dedicated plant that would allow for easier export to other countries in the region.

It seems Jelly Belly Ice Cream is on the great glass elevator to success.

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