Artisan food producer inspired by 'therapeutic effect' of fermentation
Fermented foods from Skibbereen to keep the gut happy and healthy
‘We already have a good following here and are well positioned to benefit from the fact that people are increasingly keen to add probiotics to their diet.’
It has long been recognised that fermented foods are a powerful way of proliferating good gut bacteria and it was precisely this therapeutic effect that inspired Hayley Milthorpe to set up The Cultured Food Company to produce a range of raw and fermented vegetables naturally rich in beneficial bacteria.
Milthorpe studied nutrition as a mature student and set up her West Cork-based company just over four years ago with no previous business experience. “I learnt the ropes as I went along and think I was able to progress as quickly as I did because there was no one else making the products here commercially,” she says.
“Anyone I asked was willing to stock us because there is definitely a growing awareness of the gut-mind connection and the benefits that fermented foods can offer in terms of diversifying the gut bacteria.”
The ideawas sparked when Milthorpe left college with a passion for using food as medicine
One of the biggest challenges for Milthorpe was the move from a shared kitchen to her own premises. “It’s expensive to start with and then suddenly all the responsibility is on your shoulders and that can be quite stressful, especially at the beginning,” she says. “However, we have grown steadily since moving here and now employ six people. I think the other challenges if you haven’t got previous business experience are learning to manage other people and also yourself because it would be very easy to let the business take over your life. I decided early on to use a distributor for Ireland and about a year into production I also began working with three health food distributors in the UK.”
The idea for The Cultured Food Company was sparked when Milthorpe left college with a passion for using food as medicine and an interest in ancient diets. “That’s when I first came across fermented food,” she says. “I began making different forms of it at home for my family – I have four daughters - and started selling it at local farmers’ markets. The demand was really good and I quickly realised there was a gap in the market for live fermented foods and we’ve gone from there. My focus now is on widening our distribution beyond specialist shops and our products are available in SuperValu and Dunnes Stores as well as the independent health food shops.”
There are currently eight products in the range including an award winning natural sauerkraut, fermented beetroot and Kimchi
Milthorpe says what makes her products different to the competition is the length of the fermentation process. She ferments batches for months as opposed to weeks to improve the flavour and gut benefits and the longer fermentation process also helps with shelf life. Her products are organic and unpasteurised and despite having grown, the company still produces by hand in small batches to maintain its artisan quality.
There are currently eight products in the range including an award winning natural sauerkraut, fermented beetroot and Kimchi which is made from salted and fermented vegetables with different seasonings. Earlier this year the company launched a new product, Beet Kvass, which is a traditional Russian probiotic drink. “Our target market are foodies and health conscious consumers in Ireland and the UK and particularly women aged 20+ who may also be mothers,” Milthorpe says.
Milthorpe estimates investment in the business to date at around €35,000 which has been mainly self-financed through sales with some support from the West Cork LEO. To overcome advertising budget limitations, the company has tried to catch people’s attention with strong branding and a busy social media presence. “The next step is to add more products and to build on the fact that we are Ireland’s only organic producer of sauerkraut,” she says. “We already have a good following here and are well positioned to benefit from the fact that people are increasingly keen to add probiotics to their diet.”