In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to Maxine of Ballymaloe Foods
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Ballymaloe Foods?
Our story began in the 1930s when Ivan Allen was growing tomatoes in his glasshouses in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. Ivan’s wife Myrtle, would create a delicious tomato relish with the glut of tomatoes, naturally preserving them to be enjoyed throughout the year providing a tasty accompaniment to sandwiches and cold meats. Soon this recipe became a family favourite and was a staple on the ever-growing Allen family table. Myrtle Allen taught herself how to cook and opened a restaurant in her dining room in Ballymaloe House in 1964.
Yasmin Hyde, daughter of Ivan and Myrtle Allen, was immersed in the family business from a very young age while growing up at Ballymaloe House Hotel. By her mother’s side, she learned the importance of using the best quality ingredients to make delicious food. Yasmin also had a keen eye for business and could see how popular her mother’s Ballymaloe Relish recipe had become.
The first few years of Ballymaloe Relish were, as with any small family business, full of trial and error. Yasmin put an adapted portacabin in her back garden and there she made Ballymaloe Relish. She then drove in a hand-me-down Lada to put the relish on the supermarket shelves. As the business grew, so did her family and soon Yasmin was a mother to four children and successfully running what would soon become a much-loved Irish food brand.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
In Cork, we are blessed with exceptional suppliers of local ingredients, which makes it an easy decision to avail of them! We work with local farmers to grow beetroot for our Ballymaloe Irish Beetroot and have supported the farmers to set themselves up to work with us. We buy many local items, such as West Cork onions, Dungarvan Irish Stout and Irish cider vinegar from Long Meadow. There are many ingredients we can’t source in Ireland such as vinegar and sugar that we would love to source here if we could.
As a company that still values its history and its unwavering support from the community – both locally and across Ireland – we are determined to support them in turn. We use free-range eggs for our Mayo (Clonarn Clover, Co. Meath) and our cousin, Darren Allen at Ballymaloe Farm, supplies us with rare-breed, free-range Irish pigs for our Smoked Bacon Pasta Sauce.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
Competing in Irish supermarkets against large, multi-national brands with cheaper pricing and much larger marketing budgets has been a significant challenge, as has environmental pressure to reduce packaging.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
We have seen a significant increase in our customers’ awareness of environmental issues and are determined to lead the field with regard to reducing our carbon footprint and investigating new, environmentally-friendly packaging solutions.
Trends toward vegan options of existing products are prevalent, as are reduced fat/sugar products.
Customers are also looking for products that communicate their message cleanly, simply and effectively, with additional information provided by the producer – e.g. serving suggestions, tips on usage options.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
We are, like most producers always trying to reduce packaging and our carbon footprint, it would be great to see more and more innovation and solutions becoming available to businesses like ours.
What has running your own business taught you?
Where does one start, so many things, and so much more to learn! You can never be prepared enough, long term planning is short term pain for long term gain, so stick at it. Everyone is different, our team is made up of wonderful and unique characters and this is important for the success of the business.
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
So many fantastic brands doing great stuff, from small to large. We take inspiration from the international success of Kerrygold, Guinness and Baileys. We love the work that Glenilen Farm do.
What’s next for the company?
This year was the first year that we hired an export manager, so we are really focusing on what markets we could supply both to retail and foodservice industry. We have seen good growth in the UK, The Netherlands and Germany and hope to support these countries further and introduce our products to more countries.
We are soon to launch a fun Cranberry and Prosecco Sauce which will be available this Christmas as a limited edition.
Find out more about Ballymaloe Foods here!