On winning new business to supply specialty cheese:
“We won new business from Harrods and John Lewis that meant our speciality cheeses were included in exclusive online Christmas hampers for these stores' annual Christmas gift hampers, and we were the only Northern Irish food producer to be included.
“Christmas hampers are certainly a target market in future, but our priority is to serve around 3,500 existing deli and farm shop customers. With stores like Harrods it isn’t so much the margins but the prestige helps us stand out from competitors: not many cheeses make it into there.”
On expansion and the need for controlled growth:
“We have a staff of 80 and a turnover of around £12m. We’re always looking to expand, but we still have capacity available at our existing small batch creamery. We are growing slowly but surely with existing customers, who we are keen to look after, and taking the opportunity to develop and learn.
“We’ve been producing cheddar for 40-50 years but have 15 years experience in soft cheeses, which is a relatively short period of time.”
On what UK consumers look for in a cheese:
“UK consumers are looking for something different and want to buy British. Cutting food miles is a massive tick box, and consumers are moving away from French brie to Northern Irish brie, and from Cambozola to our Ballyblue soft cheese.
“Regionality is also a massive issue, with hundreds, thousands of regional producers. At the same time, we’re trying to sell products such as brie and cheddar to places such as Somerset that also make such cheeses.”
On the major challenges UK cheese producers face:
“The major challenge is producing differentiated products at a great price that are of a high quality, while competing on price and managing volatile commodity inputs.
“That’s why we spend so much on research into new products to keep ahead of competitors, which involves lab testing, hitting legislation targets and getting the packaging and taste just right.”