Freesia’s back in freezers: Murray Bridge ice cream brand revived
South Australian ice cream company Gelista has gone back to the future by relaunching the iconic name. What do the company’s former directors think?
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Forty-one years after leaving town, a former Murray Bridge ice cream company is making a comeback.
South Australians’ fond memories of eating Freesia ice cream are about to be rekindled with the brand’s re-launch by another SA company, Gelista.
To mark the occasion, Gelista founder and managing director Peter Cox drove to Murray Bridge last week to give two of Freesia’s former directors a taste of the new product.
It was 100 years ago, in 1923, that Peter Smyth bought the business that would become Freesia.
Its factory was at 19 Seventh Street, Murray Bridge, where a new building that houses Service SA now stands.
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“Back then, it was an ice factory,” Mr Smyth’s grandson, also called Peter Smyth, said.
“They did make a product that was sort of like ice cream, but I understand it was a bit like frozen custard.
“The Freesia brand didn’t appear until around the mid-40s.”
The catchy name had a surprising source.
“Grandpa Smyth had a good friend who had a florist shop in Murray Bridge,” Mr Smyth said.
“Grandpa Smyth was in his shop one day and said, ‘We’re going to make more ice cream, and I’m looking for a name for it’, and apparently his mate was working on a freesia and said, ‘What about Freesia?’”
The elder Peter Smyth’s sons Laurie, Eric and Ken came into the business during the 1930s and started expanding it.
After the original building burnt to the ground in 1949, the Smyth brothers had another building put up, and installed diesel generators and the latest American ice cream manufacturing machine.
“Dad used to say how people came in from all over Australia and say, ‘We’re on our way to Western Australia, and we’ve called in here just to get some Freesia ice cream,” Mr Smyth said.
“People used to say to Dad all the time, ‘Oh, I love your formula,’ and he used to think it was a huge joke because after the fire, he needed a formula, so he bought an American book, simply called Ice Cream Manufacturing.
“Dad opened it up, and there was a suggested recipe, and that’s exactly what we used, and we continued to use that with slight modifications over the years.”
Mr Cox said he still loved ice cream and made a batch every three weeks from the original Freesia recipe.
He said he was “over the moon” about the new product and, when told that Freesia was being relaunched, he said, “I honestly thought the boys at work were taking the piss out of me”.
Also present last Thursday was Dennis Hicks, whose family owned Freesia until it was sold in the 80s.
Mr Hicks has been a dairy farmer in Jervois for most of his life, apart from a stint where he served as an Australian solder during the Vietnam War.
Just like many dairy farmers, who want to know that their milk is going to a company that will convert it into a quality product, Mr Hicks wanted to know that his family’s former company was now in good hands.
Mr Cox is also a dairy man, coming from four generations of dairy farmers in Tasmania, though he worked as an accountant before starting Gelista in 2009.
Bringing Freesia back was about re-igniting a traditional brand, he said, much like Robern Menz had brought back the Polly Waffle chocolate bar.
“In our role as a distinguished gelo manufacturing company, our customers were asking us to bring some innovation back into the category,” he said.
“Eating ice cream is quite a nostalgic thing to do, and we wanted to bring back that joy and happiness and that idea of sitting down as a family and sharing Freesia.”
Mr Cox said he liked to use local ingredients in his ice cream where possible, including using Gilbert’s Mallee honey in Freesia’s honey crunch line.
Freesia relocated their factory from Murray Bridge to Adelaide in 1982, but Mr Cox hoped to find more retailers willing to stock the ice cream in Murray Bridge, and return the brand to where it all began.
Two have already got on board in the past week: Farm Fresh Market and the IGA on Swanport Road.
It was also important for Mr Cox to have approval from two of Freesia’s former directors.
The proof of the pudding – or ice cream – would be in the tasting.
So, what did the ice cream experts think?
“Dad would approve of this because he always used to put a scoop in and said, ‘You should always have a slightly sticky feel to it,” Mr Smyth said.
“See how when I move the spoon, it’s slightly sticky?
“It’s supposed to be a good quality of ice cream.”
“I can’t fault it, to be honest: it’s got a great texture and great flavour … gee, I enjoy the chocolate; that was the closest to what we used to make.”
Mr Hicks was also impressed.
“I enjoyed the honey ice cream,” he said.
“It was perhaps a little too sweet but very good.
“And I agree with Peter the texture is very good.”
Disclosure: The Murray Bridge News team accepted samples of the new Freesia ice cream during this story’s production. Because we believe in thorough research. Yep.