Ballybrado goes against the grain of recession

Winner of the best new product section at the Bord Bia Organic Awards, Co Tipperary company Ballybrado has launched a range of products and aims to double Irish sales, writes Trish Dromey

UNDAUNTED by the recession, Co Tipperary company Ballybrado has just launched 14 new organic products on the market, including a children’s muesli which picked up an award at the Bord Bia Organic awards last week.

Although these are difficult times for organic producers and growers in Ireland, company founder Josef Finke says there is still a core market of Irish consumers committed to buying organic food.

He also believes that there are unexplored export opportunities for Irish organic products, which he aims to exploit.

Since settling in Ballybrado, near Cahir, in the 1980s to farm organically at a time when few had heard of the organic concept, Josef has done almost everything possible in organic terms.

This has included producing organic grain, selling grain for other organic farmers, exporting it, setting up the Ballybrado company to turn the grain into flour for export and sale into retail outlets and turning the flour into biscuits for sale in Ireland and on export markets

Along the way he produced organic meat and began selling it for other farmers, setting up a second company called the Good Herdsman which sells organic meat in Ireland and abroad.

Other enterprises over the years have involved organic wool, sweaters and skincare products, as well as an online website selling organic produce.

Now, 27 years after he came to Ireland to pursue an organic way of life, Josef is redeveloping Ballybrado with the assistance of his daughter Julia, who joined the company last year and has been working on producing a whole new range of products

The company sells flour and oatflakes to health food shops and some independent retailers around the country and exports a range of three types of biscuits to Germany.

At present 25% of sales come from exports. During the 1990s Josef focused all his efforts on his second company, the Good Herdsman, so he had little time to develop sales of Ballybrado products.

However, he has now retired from the Good Herdsman and, along with his daughter, has taken a whole new look at the market opportunities for Ballybrado.

The company buys grain from 15 organic farms around the country and has its flour and flakes produced by a mill in Macroom and its range of biscuits manufactured by a bakery in Ballingeary.

It employs a staff of four including Josef, his wife Marianne and Julia.

A qualified chef, Julia visited health food outlets around the country before developing the new range of products, which includes a range of bread mixes, muesli and snacks.

In July this year the company also launched new packaging for its existing range of flour and flakes.

“We launched our new range of products at the Rude Health Show in early September. These will be going out to wholesalers next month and will sell mainly in health food shops,’’ says Josef, who is optimistic that Ballybrado can double sales in Ireland.

He and Julia are also looking at the export market and are aiming to launch a new range of products before Christmas. The Finkes are very excited about a new biscuit Julia has developed, which uses Chia seeds.

“Chia seeds, which come from a plant in the mint family, are very high in Omega Three. Once the EU has lifted restrictions which limit the seeds to being used in bread, we will roll out a whole range of new products for the international market,” says Josef, adding that he’s already talking to potential buyers in China and the Middle East.

While the growth of organic sales in Ireland has slowed since the recession, Josef says this is not the case in other countries.

“In Germany the market is growing by 4.5%,” he says, observing that the Irish reputation for producing good, wholesome food is something Ballybrado can use to develop exports.

In Ireland, the company has always adopted the policy of staying out of supermarkets and concentrating on health food shops, supplying the core group of organic consumers.

“Organic sales aren’t as strong as they were a few years ago but the size of the core market is growing. The organic market in Ireland is now worth €140 million and is still growing,’’ says Josef.

Passionate about promoting good food, he’s optimistic about the future of both the organic market and Ballybrado. He says that winning the Bord Bia award for best new product during Organic Week has got the company off to an auspicious restart.


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