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 Alastair of Irish Black Butter
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Irish Black Butter?
Irish Black Butter was launched in late 2017. It was borne out of a desire to create something positive which anyone could enjoy whether they were from here in Ireland or from further afield. I guess I took some inspiration from seeing small producers on a local business programme bringing their produce to market and also the Year of Food and Drink in 2016. For some years I had been sitting on an idea for Black Butter which is part of the wider apple butter family. I should explain that Irish Black Butter is non-dairy and stems from Medieval times, though I have met people locally who can recount relatives making Black Butter here in Ireland. I was writing a children's book; Jake The Tractor in 2017 and I suppose I was in a kind of creative space. Writing the book was the catalyst to take action and create Irish Black Butter. Over the Summer of 2017, we perfected the recipe central to which was the use of the EU PGI status Armagh Bramley Apple. In late October I went over to the beach at The Whiterocks at Portrush for a photoshoot. People were coming over and asking what it was and where they could get it. I explained what Irish Black Butter was but that we hadn't started trading - however, I sold the first jars that day on the beach and now we are stocked locally and attracting interest from overseas. In essence, we took something very old and traditional and brought it into the twenty-first century.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
Using local Irish ingredients is paramount. Central to Irish Black Butter is the EU PGi status Armagh Bramley Apple and of course, Armagh is regarded as the orchard county of Ireland. There is a long rich history of the Armagh Bramley on this island and I wanted to bring forward something that had a real authenticity and provenance. I wanted to create something that was truly Irish from the history, the ingredients and the branding. I believe that has been achieved.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
This is really multi-faceted. There are challenges in building awareness and understanding of Irish Black Butter as it is a truly unique product. It can be used as a chutney, a spread, a sauce, a glaze for meats, an ingredient for baking, a mixer for drinks and lots more. Then there is the fact that Irish Black Butter is non-dairy, wheat-free, vegan and vegetarian suitable. It has even been described as a Hero product given its' clear Irish signature and others have referred to it as 'the other black stuff.' Irish Black Butter can appeal to different types of consumer and chefs as well as overseas visitors, hence the interest we have received. Ultimately like all food producers getting brand awareness, increasing sales and distribution are all part of the bigger jigsaw. It is a conundrum - here is a product which has received Chefs Choice in the Blas na h'Eireann in 2018, Three Stars in the Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste Awards 2019, featured on BBC Dragons Den and been included in the NATO World Leaders' Hampers last December. It's nearly like Maria in The Sound of Music - climbing every mountain, fording every stream in continued pursuit of the dream!
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
Definitely an increase in online activity. Gift and tourist outlets shrinking this year though I would anticipate a soft recovery through 2021 into 2022.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
Yes - I would like to see Irish Black Butter growing into one of Ireland's leading brands.
What has running your own business taught you?
Success is only fast when spoken or typed on a keyboard. There is always more to learn. No one really knows what will happen today never mind next week or next year. Expect the unexpected. Be patient. There's more to business than money. Visibility is never enough. Keep going - you never know who is watching.
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
There's a few. Guinness with a distinctly Irish product and branding with an international appeal. Mash Direct as they have grown from a farm into a very successful food producer.
What’s next for the company?
I have to look into the crystal ball for this one. Will some of the serious players who have expressed interest come through? Will potential overseas markets open up? Will I be Ireland's next entry on Eurovision ?? To be honest it looks like the plot thickens - ask me again in a couple of years !!
Find out more about Irish Black Butter here!