Vincent Cleary and Gerard Cleary, Glenisk

Glenisk works with 50 small family farms across Ireland to source organic cows’ milk and goats’ milk

Vincent and Gerard Cleary: The company now employs 60 people directly and works with 50 small family farms across Ireland to source organic cows’ milk and goats’ milk.

Vincent and Gerard Cleary: The company now employs 60 people directly and works with 50 small family farms across Ireland to source organic cows’ milk and goats’ milk.

 

Vincent Cleary is managing director of Glenisk, while his brother Gerard is chief financial officer. The Tullamore-based company is a producer of organic dairy and goats’ milk products including yogurt, cream and crème fraiche.

Glenisk was founded in 1987 by their father – Offaly dairy farmer Jack Cleary. Following his death in 1995, Vincent and Gerard took over the business along with their siblings Brian and Mark. The same year, Glenisk converted to organic production. In 1996, the company introduced goats’ milk products, and this part of the business now accounts for 20 per cent of turnover.

The company now employs 60 people directly and works with 50 small family farms across Ireland to source organic cows’ milk and goats’ milk.

Its market share has tripled over the past five years, while revenues have almost doubled since 2007. Turnover exceeded €17 million in 2013. Glenisk is available from all leading multiples in Ireland, as well as in the UK, Portugal, Spain and the UAE.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it? Vincent: After our father passed away, we were called into our auditors and strongly advised to wind down Glenisk as it was haemorrhaging money and was in danger of bringing down my father’s other, more viable businesses. We changed [things] and, although we’ve had a few scary moments since, in essence we haven’t looked back. Gerard: We were up to our eyes in debt and the bank was threatening to bounce cheques. We scraped together our personal savings and ploughed them into the business, which gave us a couple of months’ breathing space. We haven’t looked back.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company? Vincent: I go back to 1987 when Quinnsworth gave us our first break by listing us in 11 Dublin stores – and Tullamore of course. Switching to organic in 1995 was very significant; as was the introduction of goats’ milk in 1996. Gerard: When my generation took over Glenisk, there were 10 siblings with a stake in the business; early on, we realised that it would be impossible to reconcile 10 different viewpoints. Restructuring and transferring ownership allowed those who wished to, to exit and successfully pursue other interests, and those who remained, to unite behind a common vision for the business. In 18 months, we halved the number of shareholders, while managing to double the size of the business.

Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution? Vincent: Yes, we did not have the wherewithal to fill regular yogurt pots; we did, however, possess an old second-hand milk cartoning machine. My father told me that the finances couldn’t stretch to a pot-filling machine and I remember his relief when I shrugged my shoulders and said that we could make cartons work. Packing our yogurt initially in a milk carton format gave us our first point of difference/ USP.

What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today? Vincent: My wife will complain that when a large section of Irish society was enjoying its Celtic Tiger, we lived eight years in a draughty and damp mobile home trying to farm 200 goats on seven acres with no electricity – Dickens couldn’t have penned the misery.