Alastair Bell, the entrepreneur behind Irish Black Butter, a sweet/savoury sauce now sold in many parts of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and most recently the US, has just expanded the range with the addition of an innovative hazelnut spread.
He’s busy marketing the new hazelnut spread with his successful Irish Black Butter and peanut spread and recently clinched his first export sale of the new spread to a customer in Kent.
“It’s always immensely encouraging to win early business outside Northern Ireland,” he said.
“My current focus, however, is on developing sales here and in the Republic of Ireland for the new spread, which follows the launch a year or so ago of a peanut product.”
He worked on the recipe for the new spread with top chef Paul Clarke, the managing director of En Place Foods in Cookstown.
Paul also helped with the development of the original Irish Black Butter and peanut spread.
“We are always exploring opportunities to build new spreads and sauces to expand the range of innovative nut-based products,” said Alastair.
“This approach is in line with the overall focus on the nutritional value of nuts and other plant-based foods.
“The hazelnut spread is the outcome of extensive and successful tastings which proved the popularity of the new flavour.
“It’s a much lighter spread than the peanut and has a distinctively delicious flavour.”
The new hazelnut spread is produced in 100g jars.
Irish Black Butter achieved the coveted three-stars endorsement in the UK Great Taste Awards and as chef’s larder choice in Blas na hEireann, the Irish Food Awards in Dingle, County Kerry. It was also featured on BBC 2’s popular Dragon’s Den.
He’s already on the road marketing the new spread to delis and specialist shops across the island of Ireland.
“There’s no easy way to success, no magic solution in selling artisan foods,” he continues.
“There’s just no alternative to hard work on the road and regular phone calls and emails.
“My role involves developing new products, organising and managing stock, sales, distribution, following up leads, marketing and finance, especially chasing up invoices.
“Added to these are content creation and dissemination on social media, attending meetings and trade opportunities.
“Managing my internet has also become increasingly important to the business, especially during the pandemic,” adds Alastair.
He’s missed the programme of trade shows in Britain organised by Invest NI with Food NI, of which he’s a member. These have all been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The shows in 2019 generated a great many leads that led to good business,” he explains.
“I’d hope to see the shows resume as soon as practical. The pandemic restrictions on travel have also made business tremendously difficult for an artisan enterprise.”
“The pandemic has been extremely challenging for all smaller businesses.
“Hopefully it’s drawing to a conclusion and we’ll be able to get fully operational again,” he says.
Alastair has continued to increase awareness of his products on social media during the lockdowns.
James Martin, the high profile TV chef, weighed in with enthusiastic support for Irish Black Butter, supporting earlier endorsement from Belfast celebrity chef Michael Deane.
“Winning this acclaim from top chefs has been a great confidence booster,” he continues.
Significant listings by Avoca and Fallon & Byrne, both in Dublin and respected as two of the most prestigious food halls and restaurants there, also boosted the business over the past couple of years.
Avoca has around 10 stores on the island of Ireland, including an immensely popular outlet in Belfast, while Fallon and Byrne has a network in greater Dublin.
Irish Black Butter is also to be found in smaller delis in visitor hubs there, such as Cong, famed for the iconic The Quiet Man movie with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, in Mayo and Dingle in County Kerry.
And it’s on the shelves at Dublin International Airport and Belfast International Airport. It’s widely available in delis across Northern Ireland.
He established the Irish Black Butter Company in Portrush, County Antrim, in 2017 using Armagh Bramley apples and other ingredients such as spices with a touch of brandy.
It was a ‘new taste of Ireland’. He created the original Irish Black Butter to harness the potential of Bramley apples from Armagh’s ‘Orchard Country’ as the primary ingredient.
The butter has since developed into a popular tourist gift product and is also being used as an ingredient for ice cream, a flavouring for cured meats and biscuits, and accompaniment for cheese.
The new hazelnut spread, which has just been introduced in Britain and Ireland, will be available in delis, cheese shops and independent retailers.
Mr Bell, commenting on the new spread, adds: “I developed the new product in response to retailers and consumers seeking additional black butter flavours. Hazelnut was an obvious choice.”