A Limavady woman developed a rapeseed oil enterprise after a meal to celebrate her first pregnancy and the completion of refurbishment works on the family farmhouse.
Leona Kane is behind the award-winning Broighter Gold rapeseed oil, produced on Broglasco Farm. It is owned by her husband Richard – the sixth generation of the Kanes to farm in Myroe since 1853.
The farm, which is completely arable, currently comprises an 800ac mix of owned and rented land. A total of 200ac of oilseed is grown, with wheat, barley and potatoes accounting for the rest.
The Kanes renovated their farmhouse in 2008 and 2009. “It was built over 100 years ago by Richard’s great, great, great uncle, Rev. William Kane, who also built Dunfanaghy Church in Donegal.
“We wanted to do a sympathetic renovation, so it took a bit of work and time, and we didn’t move out because of our dog. As we were nearing completion of the work, I discovered I was pregnant with Jacob.”
The delivery of their new range cooker prompted a longing for a special dinner. “I wanted to do two steaks and a salad. This was posh, considering we had been living in our dining room, and using a microwave and a slow cooker, for seven months.
We had nothing to cook the steak in. I usually used olive oil, rather than lard or bacon fat, which my mother used. Richard had been pressing seeds to make bio diesel, and he brought up some of the oil that was unfiltered, and I used it to cook the steaks. I was terrified that I might have ruined them, but the result was amazing.
“The smell got me first. It was completely different to ‘oil oil’, and didn’t burn. My husband joked that this was our Broighter Gold. Broighter Gold is a hoard of gold artefacts from the Iron Age that was found on our land that we farm today. It was discovered on James Gibson’s farm, unearthed by two farm workers, Thomas Nicholl and James Morrow.
“It was discovered in 1896, and is kept in The National Museum of Ireland, in Dublin. It consists of a bowl, a necklace, the torc – my logo along with a drop of oil – and a small solid gold boat. This is known as one of the largest hoards and it is truly stunning.”
Jacob was born on February 26, 2009, and needed medical care for a time. “So the idea of Broighter Gold as a business, was kind of put off. It wasn’t entirely closed off, as I kept on researching the health benefits of rapeseed oil against other oils, and looked around to see what competition there was.
“We asked around restaurants and no-one here was really using rapeseed oil; they were definitely more into olive oil. So, in 2010, I took to speaking with various people about how to set up a brand, a business, and more importantly, what I needed to do to make sure what we were putting in a bottle was safe.”
Loughry College was, she said, a tremendous help, as well as the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (ABFI). Invest Northern Ireland assisted with the branding aspects.
“I wanted something that wasn’t over-branded; a product that would look great sitting on someone’s kitchen bench, beside their cooker. More importantly, I wanted a high-quality rapeseed oil that people would want to convert to from olive oil, and to support their local farmers.
“We got it in the end, and I am delighted and honoured that our business is going from strength to strength. We now supply a large number of stockists, restaurants, and hotels. We even have our own brand products for the Hastings Hotel group, Lough Erne, and two independent pizza businesses,” Kane said.
“I am very fortunate that Richard has been growing oil seed on our farm for over 30 years so he knows what he is at. He is also BASIS qualified. When we were coming up with the variety of seed that we were planting, we decided to go for one family and it has worked.
“We don’t blend our seeds – we grow one variety, or one single estate as the olive oil producers would say. It has a rich golden colour and a much milder taste than any others that we have tasted. It doesn’t have that greenness that some have. We are thrilled with all the awards and the comments that we have received from chefs at the top of their game.”
Broighter Gold received a PMG process and marketing grant for around £7,000 (€7,810). “That wasn’t very much when setting up a full production plant. We had never applied for grants previously so we were a little naïve. We should have applied for a lot of other things, like the press and office equipment – all the big and little things that you forget about,” Kane said.
“We are now trading for six years and our sales have increased every year by 25%, which we are delighted about. We have two major sales opportunities in the pipeline and more will be revealed in the coming months.”
Broighter Gold oils are mainly sold in Northern Ireland, but Kane also has a distribution company in the Republic, with SuperValu among the stockists. “We would love to export our products and are currently getting help with the US market. The product has a shelf life of 18 months.
“Everything is testing when you first start to do it. It is new and you have never had the experience of being your own boss, marketer, social media guru, recipe writer, creator of new infusions, trend watcher, accountant, and also being a boss,” Kane said.
A tight team
“This was all really hard for me to try and achieve but I am so fussy I wanted everything, and still do want everything, to be just perfect. I am a complete perfectionist when it comes to our range, and I would never let a bottle go out of our door without it being just right. I think this comes through in our offering.
“My biggest challenge was trying to set up and be all to my business, but also having two small children – Emily was born in December 2011 – and not leaving them out. I am so lucky to have an amazing mum who helped me with the kids.
I have now reached a stage where we have a small team of three making and selling the oil, and I can honestly say now that Broighter Gold would not happen without these ladies.
“They are hard working, and conscientious, and they really believe in Broighter Gold values as much as I do. I am looking at taking on one more person at the moment to help with production, as business is taking off and we need the extra hands,” Kane said.
“I am in the middle of doing a gifting range for a high-end stockist, and also in talks with a company that is going to help me get into the US. We have just launched another new oil, taking us to a grand total of 12 products, including a ’23 carat’ gold oil.”
Kane previously worked for the Ulster Farmers Union / NFU Mutual in Limavady, before leaving to set up the venture. “I had started my own business before I left and started to work part-time to give me flexibility with my two children. Never did I think I would have a full-time job running Broighter Gold. It was always meant to be a part-time job.”
However, working from the farm has proven to be the perfect lifestyle. “My dad was one of 13 and my mum was one of seven – both from farming backgrounds. We lived in the country but my parents didn’t farm; they both had full-time jobs. We kept a few calves, sheep, hens, donkeys, and usually a pony here and there.
“I loved going to my dad’s family farm to see the pigs my granny reared. I spent every day I could at my granny and granddad Moores, where there were lots of animals. We always got to help when the straw was coming in and then turkey time at Christmas.”
Now the couple are making memories and earning a living from their own fields of gold.