Killowen Farm was recently named as the winner of the Love Irish Food Brand Development Award for 2022, a prize worth €150,000. Maev Martin spoke to founder Nicholas Dunne and commercial sales and marketing manager Emma Gregory about what this award means to the business as they prepare to share the Killowen family story with their customers and further promote their product in the Irish market.
The award is run in partnership with Global, one of the country’s leading outdoor advertising companies, and is supported by trade media partner Checkout magazine.
It will provide Killowen Farm with €150,000 toward a campaign throughout 2022 that will optimise their business and marketing objectives.
The main focus of the campaign will consist of three bursts of advertising across Global’s PurchasePoint and dPod Retail network.
The prize also includes a creative bursary offered by Owens DDB Advertising, a product development package from Innovate Solutions, and a financial wellbeing business health check from Bank of Ireland.
From Pasture To Pot
Killowen Farm is a multi-award-winning yogurt and cream cheese producer from Co Wexford.
Producing natural dairy products made only from the milk of its own cows, Killowen Farm is one of the most awarded yogurt producers in Ireland and is the only Irish yogurt producer to have won the coveted Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste 3 Stars.
The business is the brainchild of Nicholas Dunne, a ninth-generation dairy farmer.
In 2004, Nicholas decided that he needed to do more with his herds’ milk and so, by transforming his traditional farm assets, Killowen Farm yogurt was born.
Along with his family - wife Judith, children Charlie, Martha and Anna, and his sister Pauline and parents Mary and Tom - he created the award-winning yogurt that we know today.
“All Killowen Farm yogurts are made with live cultures that are good for the gut in a natural way,” says Nicholas.
“The yogurts are made in small batches daily, ensuring that the freshest product ends up on the supermarket shelf. We may be ninth generational dairy farmers, but we also have a herd of cows that also boasts its own lineage, with 12th and 13th generations now leading the way. The cows have a calf/calves every year and the females join the herd and live here on the farm with their mothers and grandmothers, continuing the legacy of producing great milk.
“Our cows’ lifestyles involve lots of fresh grass and clean air with the amazing backdrop of the Blackstairs Mountains and a gentle routine which they really enjoy. It also doesn’t hurt that we are in the sunny southeast and get the best of the weather for our lush green grass.
“While our amazing herd are the stars of the show, they are only one part of the team. We are very fortunate to have a fantastic production crew in place who make our wonderful yogurt, and a great management team, which we strengthened in 2020 and 2021.
We also cannot forget the many wonderful people who make up our ‘extended team’ and who we couldn’t be without – delivery drivers, our fruit and packaging suppliers, external consultants, our team on the ground in stores, and everyone else who helps make and bring Killowen Farm yogurts to consumers every day.”
On Killowen Farm every ingredient matters.
“All our milk travels metres, not miles – the distance from our milking parlour to the yogurt production plant is less than 15 metres,” Nicholas says.
“We also work with some wonderful Irish fruit suppliers, and we source as much of our fruit as we can locally, including blackcurrants from Des Jeffares, Wexford strawberries, raspberries and blackberries from Greenhill Farm and Kearns Fruit Farm, and Wexford rhubarb from Pat Kehoe.
“When we can’t source our fruit locally (lemon curd, for example) we endeavour to use other Irish suppliers, where possible, so we are supporting Irish businesses and jobs and keeping our food travel miles low. Lots of cows’ milk travels many kilometres sitting in a truck before it even gets to the factories, which doesn’t make sense in our view. It is another reason to make the product on the farm where the main ingredient comes from.
“We are committed members of Origin Green and are always looking at ways we can improve what we do. All of our glass jars can be re-used or recycled. We have seen some amazing creations from people re-purposing the jars and entrepreneurial transition year groups making candles in the jars or using our plastic pots as little starter planter pots. The creativity is wonderful and we often support schools and groups who reach out for any left over jars or pots we may have.”
Telling The Brand Story
Commenting on their Brand Development Award win, Nicholas says that, as a family-owned Irish business, it is very important for the Killowen Farm brand to be aligned with Love Irish Food and the work they do to support and highlight local food brands that are made in Ireland and in highlighting issues affecting Irish businesses. “This win will also provide our brand with a platform to further expand and to communicate our brand story to an even wider audience over the coming years,” says Emma Gregory.
“The timing of the win couldn’t be better as it coincides with the lead into the launch of our re-brand in a few months’ time, and it helps us to get the Killowen story out there to both our retailers and consumers. We see this award as the beginning of a new dawn for Killowen – to get the message across that we are not just another yogurt brand, but a small, local and unique Irish brand that has been two centuries in the making.”
Despite having a story and heritage that would be the envy of many brands, coupled with a multi-award-winning product, Killowen Farm isn’t a name on the tip of everyone’s tongue when thinking of the most popular yogurts in the Irish market.
“We didn’t have the marketing spend like that of other brands that would allow us to do advertising, TV or radio campaigns, or invest in packaging or competitions,” says Nicholas. “Everything we made was re- invested back into the yogurt plant and business to ensure that we were constantly performing at the highest quality standards and consistently producing the best tasting yogurt. Over the years, it was a lot of knocking on retailers’ doors, sending off samples, attending trade events, and doing a lot of instore sampling to try to get the products listed, and then get the on-shelf presence increased.
“It took many years to build the distribution we now have, and while we still have more work to do, we are proud of where we are. For example, with Tesco, we have distribution in their stores and a solid route to market with direct access into their warehouse. Similarly, with Dunnes Stores, we have good distribution and a strong RTM. We have our largest product listing with Musgrave, and we go direct into their warehouses, and we are also in BWG’s warehouse, with listings in Spar and Eurospar.”
In the immediate aftermath of Brexit, Killowen lost a major contract overnight due to the issues that Brexit was causing in the market. “My sister Pauline and I had to go back to basics with this sudden contract loss and come up with ideas and ways to recover this sudden loss,” he says. “However, that is all behind us now and we are looking forward to the future with confidence.”
Communication & Collaboration
Killowen Farm is currently undertaking its first major rebrand of the range, which will see them update their website too, all with the help, support and guidance of Bord Bia.
“This involved a research task, a packaging re-brand, and website rebrand,” says Gregory.
“This rebrand has been a long process, but one that has been truly eye opening and extremely informative. We have met some incredible people along this journey and have taken the feedback of consumers on board. Our rebrand will hit retailers’ shelves from April onwards, and our website re-launch will be official from May, when we will also rollout our newsletter and blog.
“This year, we plan to attend Bloom again and get back out to speak to our current, and hopefully future, customers. With the fantastic support of the Love Irish Food Brand Development Award, we will also now be engaging with an ATL campaign later this year, and we couldn’t be more excited!”
Killowen Farm are also in the final stages of agreeing some exciting collaborations for the year to come.
Gregory notes that “we have been tirelessly working on collaborations that both fit with the Killowen brand and that haven’t been done before in the Irish yogurt category. These will feed through our social channels and, of course, our new newsletter, which we hope will start the process of extending our reach.”
Brand Position & Goals
For Killowen Farm, it is all about getting the message across to consumers that their product comes from one farm, one herd and one family and delivers ‘one unforgettable taste.’ “Our strong emphasis on taste highlights the opportunity for Killowen to challenge competitors with our brand story and credentials,” says Gregory.
“Our competitors may offer similar products, but we believe that, as shown in our research, they cannot replicate our brand story or our taste. For example, the Dunne family home is a 200-year-old farmhouse which Nicholas’ sister Pauline lives in with her parents. This is a two-minute walk to the office and even less into the yogurt plant. We are genuinely a pasture to pot, metres not miles, farmhouse yogurt producer. Our goal is to differentiate Killowen by articulating our USPs to both our buyers and consumers and to consequently increase our sales across key formats.”
Another key goal is to take ‘a percentage’ of sales from the massive 70% of yogurts that are imported into Ireland every year.
“We have a lot of fantastic yogurt producers in Ireland, so hopefully we can help in the reversal of this number,” says Nicholas.
Killowen Farm are also keen to increase their brand presence in both the retail and foodservice markets with their award-winning yogurts and cream cheese, and they believe that, with the Love Irish Food Brand Development Award under their belt, they can do just that over the coming year.