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Published on : Saturday, July 2, 2016
As the only cow’s milk yoghurt being produced in Northern Ireland, Clandeboye Estate’s award winning product holds a wholly unique position within the local dairy market. Where it also rises to the top however is as the epitome of sustainability in a sector where sustainable food is an increasingly key trend. Defined as food processed in ways that: contributes to local economies; protects animal diversity; avoids damaging natural resources; and benefits society, Clandeboye Estate yoghurt more than fits the ‘sustainable’ description. However, its impeccable credentials against this benchmark were not won by accident.
Having been devised in the first instance to use the milk from the estate’s award-winning Holstein and Jersey herds the yoghurt is part of a wider project for the County Down property. One of the largest privately owned estates in Ireland and home to The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, Lady Dufferin, the estate – like many of its kind – was struggling to survive financially. After exploring a range of commercial and environmental ventures that could make the estate financially viable now and for years to come, the milk was put to use and the original product line devised nine years ago.
“I wanted to create a business that was sustainable in the long term and combine all the elements of Clandeboye that are important,” said Lady Dufferin, “not only the cows and their milk but also our determination to develop a company with sound eco-values and a commitment to local produce.”
That commitment to local produce, and indeed to local producers, even dictated the product that would be made, yoghurt rather than cheese, butter or other dairy products.
“We didn’t want to compete with other locally made products,” added Bryan Boggs, general manager of yogurt production on the estate. “It was, of course, a unique selling point being the only cow’s milk yoghurt being produced here but initially that was the deciding factor. When we looked at it further we saw the gap in the market for a quality Greek style yoghurt so we began with that and a natural yoghurt and from there saw a gradual build up.”
Building on the success of the two core products, a flavoured range was added around five years ago, which itself has since been expanded.
“Expanding the range to incorporate flavours was a natural progression for the company but we were very careful to take our time with the move and make sure that our core products were performing well before introducing flavours,” said Lady Dufferin who embarked on a series of collaborations as part of the expansion.
“We enlisted the support of the product development team at Loughery College and Invest NI to come up with a range of flavours that we knew consumers would enjoy and then added new flavours seasonally.”
The Clandeboye Estate range now includes yoghurt smoothies of Mango and Blueberry as well as Madagascan Vanilla Greek style yoghurt, Blueberry yoghurt and the original Greek style yoghurt – five of which have been awarded Golds and Stars in the Great Taste awards. Stocked in all the major supermarkets in the north, distribution in the south has also been given a massive boost by its presence in the 120 Aldi supermarkets in the Republic. This expansion however has not seen any move away from the traditional, artisan processes that are crucial to the products’ success and central to the ethos of the brand, says Bryan.
“From a standing start we are now in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Spar, Mace, SuperValu and are in the Aldi stores since they approached us after sampling the product at the Irish Quality Food Awards. However, it is still made using manual processes, blended by hand using traditional techniques that guarantee its rich, creamy texture without high fat content. The milk – which only comes from our herd of Holstein and Jersey cows – is prepared and cultured very gently over 24 hours in small batches, which helps create its exceptional flavour and texture.”
So successful has the product become it is now one of the most profitable parts of the business, building Clandeboye’s financial sustainability as well as helping to protect animal diversity and natural resources.
“The dairy herd, which also includes a growing herd of Irish Moilies, Ulster’s only rare breed of cattle, is not profitable but the yoghurt is dependent on the milk so it’s entirely interdependent,” explained Bryan.
“That element to the estate is very important, for example we farm our land in a sustainable way without being tempted into intensive land use and part of the estate is used to grow organic vegetables which are sold locally.
“We have recently invested in an anaerobic digester which breaks down manure to create electricity and will ultimately provide energy for other parts of the estate. We are also looking at starting up a social enterprise on the estate, which currently employs between 15 and 20 people. This is all part of the ethos of Clandeboye and of Lady Dufferin’s determination to cement its future sustainability and its legacy.”
As to any Year of Food and Drink influence on that plan, Bryan is optimistic.
“What the initiative has done for us has been on the food service side of things where there has been a big increase in restaurants placing an emphasis on local food. Although the immediate impact in the retail sector isn’t quite so apparent when your name is appearing on nice menus in the best restaurants it has a knock-on effect and I’d like to think there’d be a long-term gain.”
Source:- Tourism Northern Ireland