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+
Wholesome by name, wholesome by nature
Long before sustainability was an integral part of business strategy and reformulation efforts focused on helping consumers to live healthier lives, Folláin’s range of traditional preserves was bringing wholesome jams and marmalades to households nationwide. Maev Martin talks to general manager JOHN DALY and company director MÍCHEÁL Ó LIONÁIRD about increasing market share, the pandemic dividend, and new export and
The word ‘wholesome’ is defined as ‘conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being,’ so
its Irish equivalent, ‘folláin,’ is a particularly apt name for one of Love Irish Food’s founding companies. The
manufacturer won no less than nine accolades at this year’s Blas na hÉireann awards, for both its Folláin and private label products, and
also recently received the prestigious Origin Green Gold membership. A love of cooking and a shared passion for preserving traditions is at the heart of the success that Folláin has enjoyed since the product was first brought to
market in 1983.
Mícheál Ó Lionáird’s mother Máirín Uí Lionáird met Eithne Ui Shiadhail while they were working in the honey business in the
early 1980s, and they decided to join forces to make a traditional preserve. “Folláin was born using a 100-year-old grapefruit marmalade
recipe that had been passed down through the generations,” says Mícheál. “Using Eithne’s grandmother’s recipe, my mother and Eithne whipped up their first batch of grapefruit marmalade in my father Peadar Ó Lionáird and Máirín Uí Lionáird’s family factory in
Cuil Aodha in west Cork.”
After a period of hand preparing the fruit and cooking the jams and marmalades, wordspread quickly about their delicious jams and
marmalades and Superquinn came calling, ordering 100 cases of jams and marmalades to sell in their shops. A few years after that
initial success, and to keep up with the demand for their growing range of preserves and chutneys, Folláin moved to a larger,
purpose-built kitchen in Baile Mhic Íre in Macroom, and in 1995 they won their first Great Taste Award for Folláin Strawberry Jam– and they’ve kept on winning ever since!
After nearly 20 years as a family-managedbusiness, John Daly was appointed as general manager of Folláin in January 2020. The
company’s original founder, Máirín Uí Lionáird retired in 2020, while her husband Peadar is still managing director of the
business. Mícheál sister Mairead is also involved in the company, managing its
sustainability strategy, as well as occupational health and safety.
“We also have a strong management team of professionals in the sales and marketing, supply chain, production, technical and quality control
departments,” says John Daly. “This ensures good continuity in the business. I’m a food scientist and have held numerous production and factory manager roles with the Kerry Group and Manor Farm, as well as with family businesses in the Cork area, so it is great to continue working with a strong family-run business that has good brand values.”
Sustainability and seasonality
Sustainability has been an integral part of the business since day one and as far back as 2004 Folláin gave away a free packet of seeds
with each jar. “This was a big success and by the promotion’s end we had given away over 100,000 seeds for herbs such as basil, chives,parsley and thyme,” says Mícheál. In addition, the company’s commitment to wholesome, healthier food led to the introduction of a No Added Sugar range in 2007 which, Mícheál claims, is “just as sweet as the traditional taste our customers come to expect. Today we have
a Nothing but Fruit range of jams and a No Added Sugar range of relishes, to which we’re constantly adding new recipes.”
In 2009, Folláin planted over 5,000 trees and gave one community in Ireland the chance to win 200
native trees for their local area. “This was a small step towards our goal of creating a
greener and more wholesome environment,” he says. “Folláin is wholesome by name and to us that means good food. In the almost 40 years that we have been in business, that commitment is just getting stronger. A wholesome, more sustainable future is what we want to assure and making good food in a sustainable way is how we intend to do it.”
The conserves market is pretty static, but Folláin has managed to build its share in this market and win strong retailer support for its
products on shelf. “The main catalyst for success has been our Nothing but Fruit range or No Added Sugar range,” says Mícheál. “It has been on the market for approximately 10 years, but has seen a significant uplift in sales over the last five years, and an even greater
increase in the last two years. This is a sustainable product in every way – apart from the contents, it comes in a bespoke glass jarwhich is intended for reuse and we encourage customers to use the jar when finished with it and not just put it in the recycling bin.
Retailers have been very supportive of us and have been enthused by our product’s health credentials and by our innovative and sustainable packaging. My mother was keen to ensure that the new packaging reflected the quality of the product within the jar. We therefore hope that it encourages reuse as it is something that consumers would be reluctant to throw away.”
The Folláin brand is best known to consumers as a marmalade and jam, but the company has been producing relishes and chutneys for over 15 years, although these have been available predominantly in the foodservice sector. “Our relishes were launched nationwide last year,” says John. In
the Checkout Top 100 Brands 2021, Folláin significantly increased its share of the jams market, and is now the number-two brand. “We want to continue to innovate and adapt home recipes to scaled industrial production and market our product across different categories,” he says. “A key part of our strategy is to leverage our wholesome, natural ingredients and good taste credentials to meet customer expectations with all new
products we produce.
“We have extended our range from jams to fruit fillings where consumers use our fruit when baking or as breakfast toppers, so we
are looking to bring our culinary credentials to any other category that utilises our core competency, which is making good food. We are looking at a number of prepared consumer food categories to see where we can move into next. We are already in jams and relishes, so we are looking at using our learnings from foodservice to see if we can apply that to other prepared consumer food products. There is also a strong export market for our product. We have seen that in the US, Canada and Germany over the past year and we would like to extend our reach to other export markets.” Folláin recently redeveloped its website and is offering an online gifting option for its customers just in time for the busy lead intoChristmas 2021. “While this option has been up and running for a couple of months, we haven’t had a major launch yet, but we are hoping to officially launch it soon,” he says.
Local employer Folláin’s impact as a local employer has been significant. The company current employs 48
people and is planning to increase that number over the next few months. “We are in the
process of diversification at the moment,” says John. “We expanded our workforce by eight people over the last 18 to 24 months as there was strong demand for our products during the pandemic. Our food range was viewed as being a healthy product and a lot of people
switched to healthier eating during the pandemic and we benefitted from that trend.
In addition, most people were having breakfast at home during the pandemic and when they are doing that they are having jam on toast and they choose our product for that.” Most of Folláin’s workers are from the local area and some have been employed by the company for between 10 and 15 years. “We have low staff turnover and a dedicated staff and that is what helped us to move from being a small cottage industry to being the size we
are now,” says Mícheál. “It is also sustainable for the community to have a dependable employer in the area.”
The company decided to open a 3,800 square foot purpose-built facility in 2016. “We built it bigger than our
needs at the time, which was a good call, and since then there has been significant investmentin renewable energy and technology to make
the operation as sustainable and energy efficient as possible. Also, a lot of automationand other efficiencies have been introduced to
the production process.”
As we look to 2022, where do John and Mícheál see the Irish economy heading? “Next year will be a challenging one,” says John.
“There are a lot of unknowns as we navigate this stage in the pandemic. Shopping behaviour has changed dramatically, but one
positive on the horizon is that Irish consumers are embracing local and Irish brands, so we
hope that will continue.”
Like all business owners, they are concerned about energy, insurance and materials costs, as well as the availability of labour over the coming months. “However, we believe that we have the correct package of products and thatwe are agile and flexible enough to react to what the market needs,” says Mícheál. “Global supply chain issues could lead to foodprice increases, so we will need to work
closely with our customers to ensure that we have the right offering for the market.”
As a brand that has emerged from local tonational availability, what message do they have for other local food producers? “The
most important thing for companies similar tous is to make sure that their offering is relevant to the market when it is launched,” he says. “They must also keep costs in check, be as sustainable and efficient as possible, and be lean in all processes.”
New product development
For Folláin, it is all about extending its reach into new grocery retail categories and Mícheál says that the company will be using its strong
presence in the foodservice sector to trial and rollout innovations in the retail channel. “We use our foodservice market to grow our stable of products and some of our nonjam products are available through foodservice,” he says. “We have a lot of new and interesting flavours coming through in the foodservice sector, such as sauces and savoury products. Apart from the changes to the retail landscape, the eating out market has also changed significantly, so we have used the last 18 months to develop new flavours in world cuisine. Those sauces are now being rolled out in foodservice, and if they are successful in that sector, we would be looking to make some of them available in the retail channel.”
AS A FOUNDING MEMBER of Love Irish Food and given that the company currently has a seat on the board of the organisation,
what message does Folláin have for Irish food producers? “Love Irish Food’s main function is to help Irish shoppers make
informed choices in the retail sector and it is now more important than ever to keep purchases local,” says John. “We have received mentoring from Love Irish Food and they have been involved in promotional activity to raise awareness of our brand and our products. I would advise other food producers to join the organisation because I feel that Love Irish Food has a key role to play in the Irish retail sector over the coming years.”