BACK in 1990, Yasmin Hyde began producing Ballymaloe Country Relish in her kitchen, using her mother, Myrtle Allen’s original recipe.
Almost 30 years on, the family-run business has been on an exciting journey of bringing delicious tasting products to kitchens both at home and abroad.
Today Ballymaloe Foods is run by Yasmin’s daughter, Maxine. The company has 33 staff and 14 products and exports into Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.S. Its products include relishes, mayonnaise, pasta sauces and dressings. They are based in Little Island, Cork.
Maxine Hyde may be the General Manager of Ballymaloe Foods but her mother, Yasmin, is the Chairman of the Board.
“She is still the boss!” says Maxine, who is the third generation of her family to head up the successful company that is marking 30 years in business this September.
Mother and daughter have a mutual understanding working cheek and jowl together.
“No fighting! If mum has an idea that I think is mad, I just agree and don’t argue.”
Yasmin, who inherited her mother Myrtle Allen’s strong work ethic, concurs with her daughter’s astute observation.
“Right from the start I have always had the principle of harmony in work and I like to get on with everyone.
“If something goes wrong we just react calmly and learn from experience.”
Myrtle Allen, who died in March, 2018, at age 94, was widely credited with having established a new modern era in Irish food and raised its international profile.
In 1964, she placed a notice on her gate inviting people to dine in her rural home in Shanagarry serving a menu offering fresh local produce. The rest is history.
But mothers and daughters can rub each other up the wrong way no matter how well they gel.
“I remember always scrubbing the floors in production every Friday evening in our Little Island outlet and Maxine would have her head in the computer on Facebook,” says Yasmin. “I couldn’t understand what on earth she was doing!” adds Yasmin who was always a hands-on person growing up on the Allen family farm.
Maybe, having an Italian and Commerce degree and a Diploma in International selling, Maxine would have been intent on marketing Ballymaloe Relish, Cranberry Sauce, Mint Jelly and Ham Glaze, just four of the 14 popular condiments and sauces in the Ballymaloe Foods range?
“I just could never understand it,” says Yasmin, laughing.
“I used to yank her out the door of the office and away from the computer! In time I began to understand the importance of marketing and social media to promote our products.”
What is it like having your mother as your boss?
“We’re both positive, out-going, energetic and determined,” says Maxine, who was helping her mother in the family kitchen at four years old.
So Maxine shares some of her grandmother’s traits too?
“Myrtle believed in doing things right and she was insistent on high quality. Ivan Allen had high standards. We do our best to follow suit.”
Numerous family members followed Myrtle’s culinary footsteps into the food business, including Yasmin and her daughter Maxine.
“I worked at Ballymaloe House in my teens,” says Yasmin.
“All the guests loved the Ballymaloe Country Relish which became a staple on the dining table there. My father, Ivan, grew tomatoes on his 300 acre farm, Kinoith, Shanagarry.
“There was always a seasonal glut of tomatoes and Myrtle, always finding creative uses for local produce and crops, began making the tomato relish. We are still using her original recipe free of additives, still employing the same authentic cooking methods since the 1930s.
“I was eight years old when my mother opened the Yeats Rooms restaurant at Ballymaloe House and I can still see the Ballymaloe Relish in pride of place on the centre of the dining table.”
Condiments and dips were considered ‘posh’ back then, weren’t they?
“Probably!” says Yasmin, laughing.
“The tomato relish was really versatile though, tasty with cheese and crackers, on bread and butter, or in a salad. It became popular very fast with people looking to buy it in the shops.”
Yasmin, the fifth of six children, admits she was wild in her youth.
“I had a pony and I loved the freedom of the country.”
A stop was put to her gallop.
“I went to boarding school at 10,” she says. It didn’t agree with her.
“I didn’t like it. Changing to another boarding school in the UK, I liked being in school more.”
After school, Yasmin became involved in the race horse business, racing, buying and selling the animals.
She ran a pony trekking school for guests at Ballymaloe.
When she met her husband, equine vet, John Hyde in 1979, the couple started a family. Their four children are Corrine, aged 35, Maxine, aged 32, Rosaleen, aged 30 and Sean, aged 28.
“As a young mother I decided to look outside the home to start a little business of my own,” says Yasmin.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
“On the 300 acre farm at Ballymaloe there was always fresh produce readily available,” says Yasmin.
“Ripe red, rich tomatoes in season were always ready for the table.
“My father had also inherited a fruit farm in Shanagarry. I recalled how much all the guests dining at Ballymaloe House enjoyed the Ballymaloe Country Relish so I researched some of my mother’s original recipes and decided on the one we knew very well. Ballymaloe Country Relish had a good shelf life.”
Yasmin had a healthy gut feeling about the tomato-rich relish.
“I thought it was a safe bet. Soon after considering the idea, I began producing the relish in a portable building at the end of the garden.”
She could double job.
“The kids were small. I could keep an eye out the window while they were playing outside.”
Yasmin had the necessary cooking skills and she soon acquired business acumen.
“I did careful costing and, starting off first, I sold small amounts to local shops to break even. The old Roches Stores were very accommodating, allowing me to display the relish on their shelf free of charge. ‘Just put it there,’ they said. I loved Roches Stores and was sad to hear of the Debenhams closure in Patrick Street.”
The relish went down well with the customers in the city and county. As the business began to prosper and the range expanded to ,encompass eight different sauces and relishes several moves to bigger premises followed. Today the brand boasts 14 products, the relatively new diced pickled beetroot and the old reliable pasta sauce among its best-sellers.
“The pasta sauce is flying off the shelves since the Coronavirus pandemic,” says Yasmin.
“People can make a simple tasty nutritious dish for all the family using the sauce and adding vegetables. Irish cooks can be very creative.”
Ballymaloe Foods products are now a firm staple on supermarket shelves everywhere.
“The business grew organically over the years. It is steadily increasing,” said Yasmin.
“We are with Valeo Foods, formerly Shamrock Foods, for 29 years, which helped enormously to sell the Ballymaloe brand. Being a member of Love Irish Food as well is a real plus.”
Most recently, it was annoucned that Ballymaloe Foods has signed a deal with Australian retail giants Coles to start supplying its Ballymaloe Relish product to their stores.
Ballymaloe Foods started supplying 120 Coles Supermarkets across Australia this week — bringing a taste of home to the thousands of Irish people living down under.
Ballymaloe Foods recorded sales of €6 million last year. Relish sales are up 10% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to last year.
They also export to Northern Ireland, the UK, Germany and Holland.
Both Maxine and her brother Sean work in the business, with Maxine looking after sales and marketing while Sean is concentrating on developing the overseas side of the business.
Their sisters Corrine and Rosaleen work in the equestrian and veterinary businesses respectively.
The farming fraternity promote their traditional roots.
“I needed somebody to grow beetroot for me on large scale and I met farmer Joe Harnett by chance one day going into Supervalu in Midleton,” says Yasmin.
“I said, ‘here’s my man!”
Joe grows 20 acres of beetroot for me on his farm in Saleen. He is a gift!”
The Hyde partnership is planning a nice gift for its customers for the 30th anniversary in September, 2020.
“We’re adding 30% more to each jar/packet of Ballymaloe Foods products,” says Maxine.
“It’s to say a big thank you to all our customers who buy our products regularly. We’re currently designing a new label also to mark 30 years. It’s exciting.”
Maxine finds her job and the niche her family have created in the Irish food market exciting and a source of great satisfaction.
“It’s challenging and rewarding,” she says.
“We all muck in- and I’ve been known to operate the fork-lift to clean the roof of the production area!”
For more see www.ballymaloecountryrelish.ie+
Bobby is joined by sisters Lolly and Churpy behind the much loved chain Lolly and Cooks.