Valerie Kingston of Glenilen Farm talks to AgriLand about the company’s meteoric success.
Glenilen Farm is a dairy farm based in Drimoleague, West Cork. The company is owned and run by Valerie and Alan Kingston, who in the late 1990s started experimenting with the milk from their own herd and making authentic farmhouse dairy products. Alan Kingston, a traditional dairy farmer and Valerie, a dairy scientist saw the potential in value added dairy products and started experimenting with their milk in the late 1990s.
Valerie, who previously learned how to make soft cheese on a dairy development project in West Africa, started making cheesecakes from the milk of their own dairy herd in West Cork. She sold her cheesecakes at local farmers markets and rapidly proving very popular, Glenilen Farm was born.
Now Glenilen Farm makes a wide range of yoghurts, chilled desserts, creams and butter in a 10,000 square foot production facility on the Kingston’s farm serving all the major retailers in Ireland and a growing number in the UK. In addition the company employs a staff of 35 people.
Keeping the balance between making a profit and staying true to the company’s ethos of authenticity and simplicity was crucial to the Kingstons. At present Glenilen products can be found in most nationwide supermarket chains however Valerie details how smaller retailers still play a key part of Glenilen’s marketing strategy. “Independent food stores also represent a significant part of Glenilen Farm’s business and there has always been an emphasis placed on the importance of co-existing between the multiples and independent food stores. Glenilen Farm products can be seen on shelf in Morton’s of Ranelagh, The English Market, Nolan’s Clontarf and Ardkeen Quality Food Store to name a few,” she said.
Indicative of an operation with an excellent brand reputation Glenilen supplies to select hotels and restaurants such as Chapter One and The Merrion Hotel. With a firm grasp on the Irish market the company began to look further afield, which in addition to a financial boost also presented its own challenges.
“Glenilen Farm started its export challenge to the UK market in 2009. The UK was the obvious choice for Glenilen Farm, as dairy producers, but our products have a very short shelf life so minimal distribution time is essential. We initially targeted the high end retailers such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Whole Foods and we are now in over 200 independent stores in the UK,” detailed Valerie.
As many food producers will tell you the path to success is no doddle and Valerie feels support from the government can greatly steer up-and-coming producers. “If you have a quality product, determination and willing to work hard there is help there. We are fortunate here in Ireland to have the services of Bord Bia who were instrumental in helping us get started. We may give out about traceability records etc, but the quality of record keeping has given us a great reputation abroad as somewhere to be trusted,” explained Valerie.
It’s this ‘trust’ that consumers have in the Glenilen Farm products that ensured the company survived the economic downturn. “We are fortunate to have seen the Glenilen Farm brand grow in the recession and, although everybody is feeling the pinch and times are very tight, in Ireland people seem willing to spend a little extra on quality products they can trust”, said Valerie.
The future looks promising for the Kingston’s and Glenilen Farm but Valerie is keen to highlight that despite its success the company still faces obstacles. “The challenge is always to increase efficiency and reduce costs without compromising anything of the quality or taste of your products. Ingredients, packaging and energy costs continue to rise, but it is so difficult to extract a price increase for your products,” she stated.
“Growing the UK market is our present challenge and in the near future we intend to be firmly part of the UK market and still producing product with the same taste and quality as when we worked form the farmhouse supplying the local farmers markets,” said Valerie.