It's almost midnight on Sunday night and I'm under real pressure from my brother Joe, the web developer for this new Yeats Country website, to write my first blog post. This will allow the first phase of the website to go live before RTE1 broadcasts a piece about the dairy on Nationwide tomorrow night at 7pm. The segment was filmed in the creamery some weeks ago.
On one level it has been a really challenging week in that we, like so many other small indigenous businesses in Ireland today, continue to face a business environment where our key costs remain high compared to our UK-based competitors and we find ourselves in a race to the bottom, solutions largely outside our control. On a more positive note, my son John, Jennifer (a daughter of one of our key suppliers, who following graduation has worked with us for some years and who is now a key part of our team) and Noel in sales (who has recently joined us), were manning our stand at the Shop Exhibition in the RDS and had a really great response to our new Yeats Country Cream Cheese and spreadable Goat Cheese range.
In fact, given our success at the UK's Great Taste Awards followed by the World Cheese Awards in Frome and the ongoing innovation that oozes weekly from our New Product Development team lead by Ramesh, we cannot but be positive no matter what the challenges are and I suppose one of the really nice things about working in the creamery here is the "can do attitude" that is in the DNA of the place
Earlier today, in a conversation with an old farming client that mirrored those "standing by the car boot conversations" that many vets have daily with their clients, he reminded me of the early days of the Yeats Sligo Dairy. The stories he told came short and fast, one after another. From being the first dairy in the country to ensure that the milk we sold was antibiotic free to knife edge visits to Dublin to persuade the powers that be to let new farmers who wished to supply us move their quotas, when every rule in the book was structured to maintain the status quo and many in between that would require a "dispensation" to tell!
Back in 2000 when circumstances were such that I had to cease practicing as a vet and I found myself running a growing dairy business on a full time rather than part time basis, I really wondered how I might adapt. As I sit here tonight, typing as I do with single digit, I can say, all in all to date, its been a very exciting though challenging journey. One that has demanded lots of hard work, at times almost fanatical dedication and a resilience that at times surprises even myself.
Over recent years the challenge has been how to take those very special recipes that we had developed under traditional farmhouse production methods back in the early 80's and move them to a level of production that's economically viable and creates jobs, while at the same time retaining that unique taste, texture and flavour that comes from traditionally made methods.
When in August we read the Great Taste Award Judges comments on our cheese:
"Truly delicious soft cheese looking just like clotted Organic Full Fat cream with gorgeous thick creamy texture, distinctive
aroma and full flavour" - "perfect" and "really fabulous"
and they went on to award us 10 Gold Taste Awards plus a Golden Fork for the Best Speciality Food from Ireland in 2011. it seemed like 'mission accomplished'!
Over the weeks and months to come the core task for us here in the creamery changes. Now we must get our new products listed and on the shelf in retail stores nationwide, by converting as it were, the expressions of interest shown at our stand at Shop into real sales. Given the financial strength of our competitors and the finite shelf space available, this will be some challenge. Thereafter, we face a monumental task in getting potential customers to become familiar with our products and to taste and buy on an ongoing basis so that we, with a minimal marketing spend, stay on the shelf in a market where competitors spend thousands of euros annually on marketing and promotion. Can it be done? I naturally would say yes but in reality, its really down to you, our customer.
Will I in the weeks and months to come manage to keep this blog going, who knows? But if I do, then maybe I will not only get to share with you what’s going on from time to time but little snippets (censored of course) from our past.
Hope you like the new site, that you join us on Facebook and Twitter and that you become one of our growing number of dedicated Yeats Country Ambassadors by looking out for our products on the shelves of your local supermarkets and shops and asking for them when you find they are not there.