Diversifying to cheese production has proved a great success for a Co Offally farmer, writes Trish Dromey
A trophy and a clutch of medals from this year’s International Cheese Awards are expected to give a significant boost to the export prospects of Mossfield Farm organic cheese.
Owner and founder of the Co Offaly-based company, Ralph Haslam came away from the UK event last month with a Waitrose ‘Best Cheese in the Specialist Cheesemaker Section’ trophy as well as a gold, a silver. and two bronze medals.
For Ireland’s largest-scale producer of organic cheese, this is the type of international award that has already helped it build exports to the UK, Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Singapore and the US.
Since it was set up in 2004, Mossfield has had numerous wins at the UK Great Taste Awards, the World Cheese Awards and the British Cheese Awards and in 2010 it took Bord Bia’s National Organic Award for the year.
Mr Haslam says success in international competition has made Mossfield Farm well known across Europe.
“This means that buyers come to us looking for our cheese,” he says.
The company produces six cheeses, including herb-flavoured ones, but it’s the Gouda-style cheese that continues to win the most medals and be the biggest seller. Running a company with a staff of seven, which exports 70% of its output, Mr Haslam started out as a farmer.
Falling milk prices made him turn to organic farming in 1999, and subsequently, to cheese production in 2004.
While many farmers have begun producing cheese to supplement farm income, Mr Haslam opted to do it on a larger scale. In 2008, he invested over €1m in building a 745 sq m cheese production facility on his 350-acre farm near Birr, Co Offaly.
“When buyers come to Ireland looking for organic cheese we are on the top of the list of places to visit. We have a state-of-the-art facility and we are using milk from grass-fed cows on a family farm — this is what organic cheese buyers want,” he says.
Bord Bia has over the years sent large numbers of buyers to visit the farm and has helped hugely in developing exports, he says. While sales in Ireland were difficult during the depths of the recession, the company has seen steady growth in exports in recent years.
Selling to the UK through a cheesemonger since the early days, Mossfield began exporting to the US and Europe with the help of Cooleney Cheese which, for four years, has been supplying customers with a range of Irish cheeses.
Last year, food exporter company Irish Food and Beverages came to Mossfield looking for organic cheese for a Belgian customer.
“We now supply 300 Spar stores in Belgium and this has now become one of our largest markets,’’ says Mr Haslam. This was the contract which caused exports to move ahead of domestic sales, he says.
The US is also a large market for Mossfield which supplies cheese for three occasions; Thanksgiving, Christmas, and St Patrick’s Day, selling mainly to speciality food stores and Irish shops.
In Ireland, Mossfield sells in more than 150 stores. These include independent retailers and speciality retailers as well as a number of SuperValu stores. “We are planning to start selling in Dunnes in October and one of the aims for the future is to go nationwide with SuperValu”, says Mr Haslam.
He expects to bring domestic sales back up to the level of exports. While sales have been rising by 15% a year for the last two or three years, the company is anticipating growth of 25% this year.
“The awards give us free publicity and also recognition that we are consistently producing high-quality cheese,” he says.
Birr, Co Offaly. Director:
Ralph Haslam. Staff:
Organic cheese Website:
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