A LASTING LEGACY FOR IRISH CIDER
In the third of this month’s Meet the Makers profiles, Liam McDonnell, managing director, Legacy Irish Cider, talks to Maev Martin about creating a commercially successful cider that has been three generations in the making
Liam McDonnell set up Legacy Irish Cider in 2015 in his garden shed. Today, the business can be found in Dungarvan Business Park where they are fermenting and maturing their quality cider in hefty steel tanks and wooden vats.
According to Liam, while Legacy’s ciders are “traditional,” they have two unique selling points. “First and foremost, it is the taste of our ciders that sets them apart in the market, along with our authentic and genuine story,” he says. There are four products in the Legacy Irish Cider range – Legacy Dry, Medium, Barrel Aged and Mulled Cider for Christmas, but they are planning to launch new ciders this summer and winter. “They have been maturing in barrels for the last two years and have now hit their peak, so we’ll be blending and bottling them shortly,” he says.
When it comes to the alcohol category, and beer and cider in particular, Irish shoppers’ tastes have changed significantly in recent years. “Consider the craft beer market in 2010 – if you gave someone a mildly hop-flavoured beer they would curl up their face and hand it back to you,” says Liam. “Now the market can’t get hoppy enough! In addition, there has been an explosion of consumer taste profiles. Consumers are also more environmentally-conscious, ethical and Irish-focused. There is a lot more reading the back of the label to understand the story behind the product – and reading between the lines to understand if it really is Irish. This is where we come in – we are a 100% Irish, small and independent business.”
In his father’s footsteps
Liam’s grandfather, Willie McDonnell grew apples in The Bride Valley in west Waterford in the late 1950s. His father, Pat McDonnell had a passion for apples and became a doctor in the study of apple production, eventually developing his own miniature apple tree. “I am continuing this legacy by encapsulating this history and heritage in a bottle of premium Irish cider,” says Liam.
“I chose the name Legacy for my cider because I’m following in the footsteps of my grandfather and my father by making a living from apples. My grandfather grew and sold apples and my dad grew apple trees. I’ve taken it one step further by making cider. I always wanted to start my own business. I was brought up in an entrepreneurial household – my dad is an entrepreneur, having started three separate businesses – and I loved communicating with people and, in particular, clinching a sale! At Legacy Irish Cider, we are a small but passionate team that love doing what we do – producing an authentic natural product and getting it to the consumer in perfect condition.”
Liam is optimistic about the prospects for the Legacy Irish Cider range in 2023. “I’m looking forward to increased distribution of Legacy ciders in Ireland and abroad,” he says. “We had some successes in Europe last year, but we still have a lot of work to do in Ireland. I am ambitious for the brand – I want to develop a strong overseas market and achieve carbon neutrality for the business, but my ultimate ambition for the Legacy Irish Cider brand is to achieve national distribution. I think pricing will be our biggest challenge, but I am confident that the Irish economy will continue to grow.” Cashflow is another big challenge and Liam says it is still one of his greatest challenges. “I have gone solo in my business and funded it through personal investment, bank loans and now profit from the business, but funding remains a challenge when you are trying to achieve ambitious growth projections,” he says.
Not surprisingly, sustainability is a very important element of the Legacy Irish Cider business. “Cider is a naturally environmentally friendly product as we have orchards of trees to grow our apples,” says Liam. “As these orchards grow and mature, each tree captures and stores increasing quantities of carbon. Additionally, many plants grow beneath the tress in our orchards, providing a natural habitat for wildlife and helping to improve biodiversity. But also the process of producing cider is very different to beer or whiskey. We do not boil, mash, brew or distil our apples. We simply press the apples to produce apple juice, and there is very little production interference after this. Hence, our electricity bill is very small.”