By Sam Butler
Diners in high-end restaurants in Tokyo and Dubai are now enjoying luxury cheese from Ballylisk of Armagh from the small company’s participation in the food and drink showcase organised by Invest Northern Ireland.
Ballylisk, based on a family dairy farm at Tandragee, near Portadown in County Armagh, made contacts at the ‘meet the buyer’ event at the start of December, which led directly to the company’s first sales in Asia and the United Arab Emirates.
Dean Wright, the founder and managing director of Ballylisk, says the new export clients are taking the company’s two unique cheeses – Triple Crown, a rich and distinctively flavoured triple cream, and a smoked variety. Both cheeses are produced from cream sourced from the farm’s pedigree, grass-fed dairy herd.
“We were delighted to meet buyers from Asia, the Middle East and other markets at the ‘meet the buyer’ event organised by Invest NI with support from Food NI,” continues Mr Wright.
“It’s been our experience these events really do work for us, especially in terms of new international contacts and sales. The new contacts loved the quality and tastes of our cheese and placed orders,” he adds.
The company, Ireland’s only producer of triple cream cheese, also experienced a 30 per cent growth in sales driven by the successes in exports.
The increase includes “substantial growth” in business with existing and new customers in the Republic of Ireland.
“The Republic, especially foodservice, has become an immensely important market for our cheeses,” Mr Wright says.
The company, he adds, has been receiving Christmas orders since September and will have sold 75,000 rounds of its triple cream cheese during the festive period. Sales to iconic London retailer Fortnum and Mason have also grown strongly.
Mr Wright founded the small business in 2016 with help from Invest NI and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, and launched its very first product at Balmoral Show 2018.
Its Triple Rose cheese went on to win the ‘Best New Product’ award on the same day and remains the company’s flagship product. It also won two Gold Stars at the 2019 Great Taste Awards and was a finalist in the 2018 Great British Cheese Awards.
A fifth generation farmer, Mr Wright points out that the company has full control over the production process from farm to fork.
“We also grow out own grain to feed the cattle and breed our own cows,” he explains.
The farm has been in the Wright family since 1820. With just four employees based in its Portadown cheese processing plant, exports now account for 40 per cent of the company’s turnover and are expected to reach 70 per cent in 2020.
Mr Wright continues: “Exporting is a big part of our business at this stage and we see it as a huge area for growth, so we certainly won’t limit our boundaries to Northern Ireland.
“We have seen a significant increase in sales since September and we hope this continues at the same rate throughout 2020.”
Ballylisk of Armagh currently receives 10 per cent of orders online but is seeking to increase this to 50 per cent this year.