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These young food entrepreneurs want to change how you think about butter

Meet the brains behind one of the Irish food startups to taste success through the Food Academy programme.

Elaine Lavery (left) and Hannah O'Reilly
Elaine Lavery (left) and Hannah O'Reilly

ELAINE LAVERY AND best friend Hannah O’Reilly want to change the way you think about butter.

“People see butter as something they put on their bread, but it is a great carrier of flavours,” Lavery said.

In barely more than a year, the pair, who met while studying business and commerce at UCD, have gone from tinkering in the kitchen to a fast-growing food enterprise with over 50 stockists and a weekly turnover in the thousands of euro.

The idea for their product, Improper Butter, came during Lavery’s post-college stint working as a chalet chef in France.

“I didn’t have any qualifications to cook but it was what I loved,” she told TheJournal.ie.

To maximise her time on the ski slopes, Lavery started pre-preparing flavoured butters she could add to meat or vegetable dishes when she had to whip something up quickly for guests.

After returning home, she combined her culinary nous with O’Reilly’s business brain to form their company, which started selling handmade, flavoured butters at local markets.

At the start it was very much trial and error; the big food companies have huge product-development budgets – as a small company you don’t have that finance behind you. Plus we didn’t have the expertise.”

From 20 to 2000 sales a week

But through a small Enterprise Ireland grant the two 25-year-olds were able to get some advice from food technologists about increasing the scale of their production and the brand’s reach.

IMG_4990 In case you're wondering, this is what Improper Butter looks like

The next breakthrough came with the Food Academy scheme, a programme put together by Bord Bia, SuperValu and the Local Enterprise Office network.

The scheme connects startup food producers with experts in marketing, business building and distribution to help budding entrepreneurs grow their operations – as well as providing guaranteed shelf space from the supermarket chain.

From one outlet in Blackrock, the pair have expanded their reach into about 30 SuperValu-branded and affiliated stores, as well as specialist shops across Dublin and across 10 counties.

A year ago the company was selling only about 20 sticks of its butter a week – but now, Lavery said, that figure is more like 2000.

They also made it onto the Dragons Den TV show, where they struck a deal with dragons Ramona Nicholas and Eamonn Quinn – in return for an initial 30% stake in their business.

Source: bankofirelandgroup/YouTube

What now?

“The next stage will be more of the consultation process and growing as a business,” Lavery said.

Because we have been able to supply a number of stores quite quickly with this programme we want to add new product lines, which will just be about me playing around in the kitchen and trying recipes, going back to scratch, and then doing some market research.”

The company sources butter from Irish producers then adds its own herbs and flavourings, and in the future Lavery said they wanted to look at how they could use technology to improve production.

Graduation Day

Today the pair’s business was among 30 to graduate into the next stage of the food-enterprise scheme – the Food Academy Advance program.

They will join food startups from around the country in further ramping up their operations with more than 8 in 10 of the operations planning to hire staff to grow over the next year.

Some of the other businesses to make the grade include DeRoiste Puddings, from Co Cork, Patels Authentic Spices, from Dublin, and Wild About Foods, from Co Wexford.

Over 260 startup food businesses have been through the Food Academy program so far.

READ: OK, so there ARE a few Irish brands out there that are still Irish. At least, mostly Irish… >

READ: How two students saved enough food for 325,000 meals from the rubbish >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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