Inside Track Q&A
Tom Butler, founder of Cuinneog, Irish farmhouse country butter and natural buttermilk
What’s the most distinctive thing about your business?
We’re using the same old system of churning, which dates back over 2,000 years. When we first started in business, we used a wooden churn, although it’s all stainless steel now.
It started when a local agent selling Irish, home-produced products asked me if we would make butter for him. We used to make it for our own use and our family did before us as did most generations before this throughout the country, especially in rural Ireland.
The products are made from pasteurised cream and milk and their consequent flavour is their most unique quality.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
To maintain the quality of our products. We regularly test our products and make sure that no batch is dispatched without being tested in the lab. On top of that we send samples to an internationally accredited lab as a check because you really have to work at it.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
The biggest mistake was undoubtedly that we didn’t concentrate more on product development. For this current year, we’re going to keep promoting our range but on top of that we’re doing development and research to see if we can develop other products. This year we produced products which were particularly user-friendly for the catering market rather than the way we present things for the retail market.
And your major success to date?
The availability of our products nationally. The first group that stocks our products is the multiples; the second is the smaller stores – speciality stores and smaller supermarkets; and the third is the catering industry. We’re lucky to have restaurants such as Chapter One using our product.
We’ve also won a number of awards. We’ve won gold in the London-based Great Taste Awards for five of the last six years and for two years running our buttermilk also took gold, the only buttermilk to have received this award. We’ve also been the recipient of a Euro-Toques award for our butter.
Our butter was on the table of the State banquet in honour of the Queen of England and the buttermilk was used in the brown bread, so that was a great honour for us and an opportunity which we appreciated.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
Apart from our own distributors, who are wonderfully efficient both in the distribution and, crucially, payment side of things, I would greatly admire Breda Marr, the owner of Cooleeney Farm cheese in Tipperary. She has unique Irish products that are all made from their own milk. She has a lot of different brands and exports quite a bit. It’s great to see small, home-grown Irish business expanding and penetrating markets around the world.