Julie Curtin, marketing manager of Country Crest talks to AgriLand about the opportunities and challenges the company has faced over the past few years.

Like many successful Irish companies Country Crest is family owned and was set up in 1994 by brothers Michael and Gabriel Hoey. Based in Lusk the Hoey family have been growing fresh produce in North Dublin for almost 100 years. Today the company is recognised as one of the largest suppliers of quality potatoes and onions to the Irish retail sector and has expanded from a small family operation to a staff of 180.

The Hoey brothers were aware that in order to remain successful diversification was necessary. Now its range includes a wide range of wholesome prepared meals and quality vegetable accompaniments to Ireland’s leading retailers, via Ballymaguire Foods. Ballymaguire Foods is a Country Crest company and is based on site at the Country Crest agri-food complex.

Curtin details the decision behind Country Crest’s entry to the pre-prepared foods market. “This was a natural move for us as our business is based directly on and within an area of wide produce production, the ease of access to many of the raw ingredients required for the prepared food lines was ideal,” she said.

While keen to expand into this new area Country Crest also wanted to remain close to its environmentally aware principles evident from the onsite wind turbine that generates the company’s electricity supply.

“In addition to local and efficient ingredient sourcing, Ballymaguire Foods (our prepared meal solution company) fits with the essence of Country Crest and specifically our green ethos with a focus on reducing food miles and an overall passion and respect for our environment and the land we source from,” she explained.

Despite its strong market position Country Crest has not been immune to the effects of the Recession with consumer spending on food declining to reflect reduced salaries.

Curtin remains optimistic on the issue. “Despite our core business and product offering (potatoes) being a commodity item, there were still noticeable shifts in consumer purchase patterns evident in changing pack formats and a focus on discounted deals. Thankfully potatoes tend to be a genuine value-for-money purchase within the food sector, so overall we did not see any drastic affects from the recessionary period.”

Interest in Irish produce has seen a subsequent rise in the number of food centred events with Bloom and the Taste of Dublin the most high-profile examples. The Country Crest team attended Bloom and Curtin believes the event provides an excellent platform for Irish Food companies to show case their products, brands, and unique attributes to a patron base that are genuinely interested and engaged in supporting Irish.

“The specific ‘Best in Season’ Marquee where we exhibited was dedicated solely to featuring fresh produce focused companies. The execution of this marquee by Bord Bia and the camaraderie between the differing exhibitor stands was excellent.  From both a live participation and a ‘knock-on’ PR perspective, Bloom was a very successful event for the Country Crest brand,” she said.

Although the current business (both fresh produce and prepared meal solutions) is primarily ‘private label’-orientated, Country Crest continues to look for ways to maximise its product offerings.

Curtin elaborates in the next step for the organisation “We would like to re-develop and increase awareness of the ‘Country Crest own’ brand identity beyond just trade contacts and to Ireland’s local and national consumer base.”

Check out Country Crest or its facebook page here

By Kathleen Rowley

Pictured Gabriel and Michael Hoey