Harry and Meghan's guests enjoyed handcrafted butter. The husband and wife team behind Co Down's Abernethy Butter are experiencing fresh success after their produce was served at the recent royal wedding.
Allison and Will Abernethy's Dulse and Sea Salt butter was on the menu at Harry and Meghan's wedding celebrations, having been churned at home on the couple's Dromara farm.
Abernethy Butter was born when Allison and Will gave an old-fashioned butter-churning demonstration at an agricultural show – as taught by her father. Now they have both given up their jobs as a farmer and a nurse to produce butter and fudge full time.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
There’s not really anybody who does it all by hand the way we do. There are the big guys like Kerrygold and Dromona that do everything with machines, but we are the only ones in the whole of Ireland that make our butter completely by hand. We still pat it out using the old wooden butter pats. That seems to make the butter richer and creamier.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever received?
We haven’t had any business advice that stuck with us. We have friends who are chefs we would talk to, like Paula McIntyre, who we would ask to taste our butter if we’re creating a new recipe.
We made a decision early on not to supply supermarkets. We can’t physically produce enough butter, and we would rather stick with places like Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, and the little delis and farm shops. The big guys just squeeze and squeeze you. We recently said no to Sainsbury’s, which wanted us to supply their Taste the Difference range.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Being too soft with waiting for payments. Now I’ve gotten a bit harder. Before I was a bit too easy-going with waiting for payment for the next month.
And your major success to date?
We’ve been in business now for eight years, and our first major success was supplying The Fat Duck [restaurant]. Last year the Duchess of Gloucestershire came to visit us here on our farm, and we’ve met Charles and Camilla a few times. We’ve also been to 10 Downing Street.
Our Dulse and Sea Salt butter getting served at Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding was pretty awesome. A catering company contacted us a while ago, and said they needed butter for a special occasion, which was around the time of the royal wedding, and we thought it might be for that.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
Peter Hannan is the Meat Merchant in Moira, Co Down. He won the supreme champion of the Great Taste Awards twice. When he won it the first time he introduced all the buyers who came to see him to other local businesses. He wouldn't just keep it all for himself. He's a great support.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Northern Ireland open for business to SMEs?
We joined First Trust for our business banking, and they’ve been very good. We didn’t need any big loans, but they’ve helped us with meetings and anything else we need.
What one piece of advice would you give government to help stimulate the economy?
Eighty per cent of our business goes to the mainland [Britain], so we haven’t seen any decline over the years. It’s hard with Brexit to see what’s going to happen. Stormont isn’t in place. It would be nice to have a government back in general for things like roads and other issues like licensing laws and being able to change the VAT for restaurants.
What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
I worked as a nurse for 32 years, and I had to give up my job to work on the business. I found that difficult to do, and to deal with the insecurity of not having a regular wage coming in. Once I did it, I never looked back.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We brought out a new flavour of butter this summer. Hopefully that will increase business. The thing about our business is you can’t just flick a switch and the butter is made, you have to employ more people, so it’s all gradual. We have three employees at the moment.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I have no idea what it’s worth, and I just don’t know if we would sell it.