Championing an Irish delicacy
Made in the heart of lovely Leitrim, McNiffe’s Boxty is a taste of home for many Irish people. Maev Martin talks to Detta McNiffe, founder of McNiffe’s, about a business that has successfully shared this unique Irish tradition with generations of consumers
Detta McNiffe and her husband Michael moved back from Dublin to their native Leitrim in the mid 1980s – a brave move given that jobs were not plentiful in the west of Ireland at the time.
“Our decision was based mostly on the fact that we identified a gap in the market for truly authentic traditional Irish boxty that was ready to eat at home, replacing the somewhat time-consuming process that would otherwise be involved in making it,” says Detta. “We have always been extremely proud of our authentic family recipes, and we wanted to bring a taste of these unique traditional Irish speciality dishes to every home throughout Ireland and abroad.”
Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake that is native to the north-west of Ireland, more specifically counties Leitrim, Cavan, Longford, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, Fermanagh, and Donegal, but its popularity is not limited to these regions. “We began trading in the north-west initially, but as the business grew and we expanded into new regions that were not traditionally associated with boxty, we found that, once customers tasted the products, they loved them. Also, for the most part, they understood that, like any Irish food (soda bread, coddle, Irish stew) that originated somewhere in Ireland, the location was not as relevant as the deep history that these foods had in this country and the value that they brought to the Irish people.”
Boxty is one of our most unique traditional Irish foods, with written evidence of its existence dating back to the 1700s. “Although it can be categorised as a ‘peasant dish’ by some, we see it as nothing short of a celebratory dish and one that must have been so important to the Irish people in a time of little,” says Detta. “It was so important that they solidified it in history by writing poetry and songs about it, leaving a legacy that very few foods can lay claim to today.”
If you look at the list of ingredients required to create it, Boxty is a simple dish, but there is skill and knowledge required in the process to ensure that it tastes beautiful and exactly as boxty should. “We have always felt passionate about giving customers a real ‘taste of home’ and our customers tell us daily that our boxty tastes exactly like the boxty their parents/grandparents used to make. We take great care to ensure that this will continue to be true for generations to come.”
McNiffe’s have been trading since 1988. They launched in the market with their Pan Boxty – a savoury potato-based ‘pancake’ that is made using freshly grated raw potato, flour and seasoning and fried ‘in a specific fat-free way’. According to Detta, pan boxty is best fried on a pan, in a little oil, butter or any cooking aid you wish, until golden and crispy on the outside. It should be served straight away.
Over the years, the McNiffe’s range has expanded to include all their traditional family recipes covering the full variety of original boxty types (Pan Boxty, Boxty Loaf, boiled/dumpling boxty style), as well as specific dietary variations of each, such as gluten-free and Slimming World-friendly varieties.
“Our entire product range is naturally fat free/low fat, with no added sugar or artificial colourings or flavourings, and all our products are suitable for vegetarians and vegans,” she says. Pan Boxty is their best-selling product, followed by their potato cakes which, according to Detta, are made with freshly mashed potatoes “unlike many on the market that use dried ingredients and added oils.”
New product development
McNiffe’s products are currently distributed to selected SuperValu, Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Centra, Spar, and Gala shops nationwide and throughout the island of Ireland, as well as to many independent retailers, butchers, and food service businesses. “We are always looking to widen our distribution and reach as many customers as we can, both nationally and internationally,” she says.
Despite this extensive distribution network, as well as an ever-expanding customer base and product range, the McNiffe’s remain ambitious for their brand. “We just launched the latest additions to our boxty portfolio – ‘Boxty Bites’ – bite-sized portions of the original boxty recipe, and our ‘Fluffy (Vegan-Friendly) Pancakes.’ Both products are performing very well since they were released. Our plans for 2024 are to expand the markets that all our products are currently being stocked in and to continue to promote and grow our products and business to meet the growing demands of both our existing and potential new customers.
“We want to build customer recognition and trust in ‘McNiffe’s’ as a high quality, premium Irish brand, a brand that is the gold standard for customers who want to taste award-winning Irish Boxty, potato cakes and pancakes. Our customers can be assured that they are receiving products that are a true representation of these Irish classics, products that are unique and distinct from their competitors and are delightfully tasty for the whole family to enjoy.”
LOVE IRISH FOOD
McNiffe’s joined the Love Irish Food organisation early in 2023. “We recognised the similarity in values between their organisation and our own business,” says Detta. “We wanted to align ourselves with a well-known brand that represents Irish businesses at their very best, and one that effectively communicates the importance of provenance within brands to customers.
“Being members of the Love Irish Food organisation has given our brand an added layer or ‘seal of approval.’ In particular, for new customers, it reassures them that our business and our products are Irish – they are not only made in Ireland but they are also Irish when it comes to the ingredients used in their creation. The Love Irish Food logo on pack engenders respect from consumers and is something that contributes significantly to the value of our brand.”
Would she recommend membership of Love Irish Food to other Irish food and drink producers? “Absolutely, being a member of Love Irish Food offers many great opportunities for Irish businesses in terms of exposure to new customers and marketing potential, as it impresses upon shoppers the authenticity and Irish origin of your brand.”