Produced by North Cork Co-operative Creameries in Kanturk, Co Cork, Ór-Real Irish Butter has been on retailers’ shelves and in shoppers' baskets and trolleys for just over a year. Maev Martin talks to North Cork Co-operative Creameries CEO PAT SHEAHAN about the brand’s storming performance over the past 12 months and its NPD plans for Christmas and the New Year.
North Cork Co-operative Creameries is a farmer-owned co-operative that employs over 100 local people and supports 250 local milk suppliers. “We work with local farmers whose families have been supplying milk to us for generations,” says Pat.
“This gives us full control over the quality of the milk from grass-fed cows that goes into Ór-Real Irish Butter. We recognise that our farmers, their families, and our locality are all part of what makes Ór-Real Irish butter special. They understand that, as with the generations that went before them, their actions will impact the generations to come, so while their goal is to produce top quality milk, they are doing that with an eye to future generations by maintaining traditional, and sustainable, farming methods.
The co-operative has been producing butter since 1928, so they know a thing or two about making tasty and traditionally churned butter. “Very little has changed during that time - we still use traditional methods, but to modern standards,” he says.
“Our mission is to support our local community, to produce butter in a manner that minimises our impact on the environment, and to create a quality and tasty product for consumers.”
The brand has certainly been a big hit with consumers over the past year, as Pat tells me they have achieved and surpassed their sales target. “Sales continue to increase week on week,” he says.
“We are building up a loyal base of shoppers around the country and recent award wins have also boosted sales.” Ór-Real Irish Butter’s initial foray into the grocery retail sector was with the Musgrave Group.
“They listed Ór-Real Irish Butter in SuperValu stores nationally, and in the top 100 Centra stores, in November 2021, and since then, sales have surpassed our expectations. We are planning to broaden our distribution later this year and into 2023, so we have ambitious plans for the brand based on our success to date. We are in discussions with other retailers in Ireland who want to stock the product, so we are currently doing the preparatory work required to make that happen, with a view to seeing our brand on these retailers’ shelves early in the new year.”
While there have been many highlights for the brand over the past year, for Pat, the big highlight is the consumer reaction to the product. “For example, in areas of south county Dublin the demand for Ór-Real Irish Butter is very strong, as it is in other urban areas,” he says.
“In fact, the brand has been going from strength to strength, and while we know that our butter is great tasting and top quality, we are delighted that our consumers and award judges agree! We are thrilled to have won a series of prestigious awards recently, including a Great Taste 2 Star Award 2022, an Irish Quality Food and Drink Gold Award 2022, and a Blas na hEireann Gold Award for 2022.
Comments from judges like ‘deliciously creamy with just the right amount and balance of salt’, and another saying, ‘the subtle salting created a lasting deliciousness and enhanced the rich, creaminess of the butter’ make all the effort developing the brand worthwhile!
Trends & Opportunities
In 2021, North Cork Co-operative Creameries carried out research with Bord Bia which showed that there was a consumer demand for a product like Ór-Real Irish Butter. “That was the genesis of the brand because the research told us that consumers are seeking out fresh, natural food products with clean labels, and from sustainably produced sources, for immediate consumption and in baking,” says Pat.
“The trends over the past number of years for butter consumption are interesting in that the market for ‘real butter’ is growing and there is a move away from spreads. The value of the retail butter market is now bigger than the retail spreads market.
"We got fantastic support from the Bord Bia development team, who helped us to understand that we were ideally placed to develop Ór-Real Irish Butter. Our story is genuine. Our location is unique. Our region of North Cork, with its rainfall and soil profile, is excellently placed to produce the finest of grassfed milk, which our generations of expertise help to turn into some of the finest (and nationally recognised) butter. We were confident that our superior traditional taste would win consumers over.”
As a new brand, Ór-Real Irish Butter is naturally focused on its sales performance and has set itself ambitious targets around distribution and sales.
“We are delighted with the trends that we are seeing in our first year, so our targets for 2023 are to deliver further strong growth levels, and plans are well advanced in terms of distribution, product diversification, promotional activity, and a robust marking communications strategy," says Pat.
“What we are about is butter, so we have a few variants that we are looking to launch over next couple of months in terms of pack size and unsalted variants. “For example, we will launch two additional SKUs before Christmas – a half pound unit of salted butter and a half pound unit of unsalted butter, which is mainly used for baking purposes. We will then roll out our full product portfolio – the one we launched last year along with these variants – with other retailers early in the new year."
Creating awareness and securing recognition for Ór-Real Irish Butter as a national butter brand was a key goal for the brand’s first year in the Irish grocery retail market. “Having identified a range of target markets, their values, behaviour and drivers, and where they get their information, we created a marketing strategy that communicates the right messages on the right digital and traditional marketing platforms,” says Pat.
“These messages support and expand on the core messaging and values of the brand.”
Ór-Real Irish Butter initially worked on a digital campaign, developing a website that told the brand story.
“We supported this with digital marketing, social media and YouTube video campaigns, which created a strong online presence that has driven traffic to our website,” he says.
“Giving consumers the opportunity to ‘Meet Our Farmers’ through YouTube videos, social media, and our website has been one of our more successful campaigns. We are extremely fortunate that our farmers are more than willing to get involved and share their stories with shoppers. Our consumers are always very engaged with recipes that they can make using Ór-Real Irish Butter and our team is delighted to have put together a range of time-tested and delicious Bord Bia-approved dishes and recipes.
"We love to share our food ideas, and we continuously update our recommendations to make sure we are using Ór Real Irish Butter to complement the best seasonal produce available. While our digital initiatives are important, we understand that as a new brand we need to use as many marketing touchpoints as possible. We are delighted that we have seen strong results from more traditional marketing platforms such as radio campaigns and print campaigns that run nationally. We have also been extremely fortunate that our award wins have been picked up and communicated by both local and national media.”
Sustainability & The Irish Shopper
Ór-Real Irish Butter’s research with Bord Bia revealed that there is a large cohort of shoppers who want quality products, and they want to know where their food comes from.
“As I mentioned earlier, we have profiled some of our farmers on our website where they talk about sustainable practices that they are engaged in on their farms, and their stories have generated a lot of traffic to our site, and to our YouTube videos,” he says.
“Consumers are looking for locallyproduced, traceable food that will also support employment in their local area, as well as in the wider community.”
Are we seeing a big shift away from brands and towards own-label products to cope with the current inflationary pressures?
“We continue to offer a top quality product at an affordable price, so we believe that our shoppers will remain loyal to the brand,” he says.
“Butter is a traditional product with very little added to it, and while you can get cheaper alternatives, we believe that the demographic we are targeting will continue to buy our product. This is the feedback we have got from the research we did with Bord Bia, and in terms of our weekly sales, which are growing week on week, so the trend is continuously upward in terms of our butter sales.
“Dairy commodities are at an all-time high and our operating costs are experiencing significant increases, which is a challenge for all food businesses, but we remain focused on delivering our quality product at a competitive price, so that Irish shoppers can enjoy our Ór-Real Irish Butter every day. We engaged in a lot of price promotional activity during the year and we provide money off vouchers to support the consumer.
"We also run a lean operation, and we are very conscious of the production and energy costs that have driven price increases across the board. However, we have absorbed a number of those costs ourselves without passing them on to the final consumer."
Love Irish Food
Ór-Real Irish Butter is a relatively recent member of Love Irish Food.
“The organisation’s trusted reputation with consumers and the fact that it represents authentic Irish food and drink brands makes the partnership an ideal fit for us,” says Pat.
“The guarantee that the Love Irish Food logo gives to the consumer – that its members are producing products in the Republic of Ireland using available local ingredients – makes them the perfect partner for Ór-Real Irish Butter,” he says.
“By joining Love Irish Food, we have additional access to experts in the field of food and drink, and it is great to be part of a local business community of amazing Irish food and drink brands. Our objectives and Love Irish Food’s objectives are one and the same – supporting the sustainability of the Irish food and agriculture industry and supporting local jobs.
"I come from a farming background, where the sustainability of the Irish food and agriculture is very important to the rural, and the wider, economy. Any brand that is a member of Love Irish Food is in the market for the long haul. They are quality, authentic, transparent, and sustainable products, so they raise the bar for the entire food and drink industry. And that is what we are doing with our brand – we are investing to develop a sustainable return for our shareholders and the rural economy, as well as providing a high quality product for the consumer.”