Inside track Q&A
In conversation with Pat O’Farrell, co-founder, Carrigaline Cheese
What sets your product apart in the industry?
Our cheese is all handmade. Even the packaging is done by hand. Our ingredients are 96 per cent Irish. We source milk for our cheese and wood for the smoked cheese locally. Our cheese was served to two American presidents who visited Ireland – Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. We have to assume they have good taste! It has also won a lot of awards, including a World Cheese Award.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
When we first set up we didn’t do any marketing. We were reliant on distributors to market our product and merchandise it well. Once the cheese went out the door, we were happy. We never followed up on it in stores and wondered why our orders weren’t increasing. We now go into shops regularly and are always checking how our cheese is being displayed.
What has been your major success to date?
Getting our product listed in so many shops and seeing its popularity rise. We also have our cheese in lots of hotels, for example on hotel cheese boards, which is a great achievement.
We started exporting to the United States 12 years ago. At one stage we sold more to the US than in Ireland. It was crazy as people were often returning from holidays in America, telling us they’d seeing our product over there. The market has changed hugely now though and our domestic market is by far our biggest market. We still export, mainly to the UK, France, Italy, Dubai and the US. We are producing approximately 300,000 units of cheese every year and we probably export around 20 per cent.
We have also successfully introduced new flavours. In the early 1990s I saw a TV programme about the health benefits of garlic. I decided to put garlic into our cheese, and that product is still on of our best sellers.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
The people that are starting off in business today, especially people in the food business. They are to be commended as it’s no easy job setting up in a recession.
When people go shopping and see new Irish products on the shelves, I think it has a positive effect on the economy. We set up in the recession in the 1980s. We were dairy farmers at the time but needed to do something else as we had a young family and needed more money. I saw an advertisement for a cheese course in UCC and the rest is history.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?