Helen Meade from Killowen Farm talks to AgriLand about the company’s strong support local ethos and how it plays an essential role in its success. 

We are now accustomed to seeking out the ‘made in Ireland’ products while perusing the aisles of our local supermarkets. However despite so many informative campaigns undertaken by organisations such as Bord Bia deciphering what is made or simply packaged in Ireland can still be a minefield.

Killowen Farm is a family-run company that epitomises what buying Irish stands for, all milk comes from the Dunne family’s herd of Holstein Friesians and Wexford’s abundance of fresh fruit is used for the ‘local flavours’ range.

Killowen is the oldest farmhouse yogurt brand in Ireland, being in existence for more than 30 years. Nine years ago Nicholas Dunne took over the business and moved the production onto his family farm in Courtnacuddy, near Enniscorthy in Co Wexford.

As a ninth-generation dairy farmer, Nicholas runs a herd of 150 Holstein Friesian cows, providing the milk used for yogurt production. Three years ago the company rebranded itself as Killowen Farm to reflect the fact that the yogurt is made on a farm. The business has gone from strength to strength and now employs 14 people.

According to Meade, ‘one farm, one family’, is the Killowen Farm ethos, it boasts the only yogurt made in Ireland using milk exclusively from one herd of cows. This allows the Dunne family full control over their primary ingredient.

“The farm’s ethos has extended into the sourcing of local fruits as much as possible, another unique selling point. In a year that has seen several food scares it is reassuring for customers to know that their food really is coming from Killowen Farm. The French have a term terroir, which can be loosely translated as ‘a sense of place’, Killowen Farm yogurt is a true reflection of its terroir,” she detailed.

With a wide range of yogurt products on offer, Meade elaborates on how Killowen Farm differentiates itself in the mind of the consumer. “Killowen Farm produces a range of different yogurts; however it's most famous for the Greek-Style range in glass jars. In 2012 a 'local flavours' range was introduced, with the aim of showcasing the fresh fruit for which Co Wexford is well-known for producing. Wexford Blackcurrant, Wexford Strawberry and Wexford Rhubarb flavours have proven a big hit with both customers and critics alike. The Wexford Blackcurrant flavoured yogurt won 2 Gold Stars in the Great Taste Awards along with the Gold Medal in the Blas na hEireann Irish Food Awards. Similarly the Wexford Rhubarb flavour yogurt won 1 Gold Star in Great Taste and the Silver Medal in Blas na hEireann,” commented Meade.

The Recession has meant that local operations such as Killowen Farm have had to work hard to ensure they establish a firm position on the shelves and the shopping lists. Meade details how Killowen Farm dealt with the economic pressure brought on by the recession.

“As the market for private label produce grew, it was putting pressure on branded goods. With customers asking why they should spend more on a branded item such as Killowen Farm yogurt, we felt that we needed to highlight the premium product that we have. This led to the development of the award-winning locally-sourced range mentioned above and the range was recently shortlisted for a Bord Bia Award in the Success At Home category for its achievement in helping us consolidate our position in the dairy category.

"One positive trend from the past few years is that with less money in their pockets and people eating out less, more attention is being paid to what goes into the shopping trolley. Irish people will definitely support a high-quality Irish product at a reasonable price. They understand that 'value' and 'cheap' is not the same thing. Killowen Farm yogurts are not cheap- they do offer very good value for money,” elaborated Meade.

Meade is a keen marketer with indepth knowledge of brand development. One element of the Killowen Farm marketing strategy that she feels all Irish suppliers should adapt is the move to social media.

“We have a Killowen Farm Facebook Page www.facebook.com/KillowenFarmFoods and Twitter account @killowenfarm . In a business with a limited advertising budget social media is a fantastic way of reaching out to customers and the industry in general. We give product information, list new stockists, gather customer feedback and engage with agencies such as Bord Bia and Good Food Ireland, as well as journalists,” stated Meade.

Hard work and long hours have ensured Killowen Farm’s success. Meade  details that Bord Bia has also played a key role in the company’s continued growth. “Bord Bia have been a fantastic support for our business. We avail of a wide range of their services including their world-class market research, regular access to training workshops, retail and food service programmes, the Brand Forum, the Marketing Assistance Programme and we currently have a Bord Bia Smurfit Marketing Fellow researching the UK market on our behalf.

"In addition we have participated in the Artisan Food Market annually at Bloom in the Park and this year we were shortlisted for the Bord Bia Food and Drink Awards. We are also enrolled in the Bord Bia Origin Green programme focussing on sustainable food production,” said Meade. Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc and the Wexford County Enterprise Board have also supported the company.

2014 promises to be a hectic year for Killowen Farm. “We have recently upgraded our packing hall and storage facilities and we are in the process of bedding down in the new building. The new facility will give us the scope to increase our production five-fold. New product development is key to growing our presence on the supermarket shelves and we will also be looking at overseas markets for new outlets for our products," Meade concluded.

Recipe for Sucess is a new series where AgriLand has linked up with Bord Bia to showcase an agri-food business every Friday.