Bryan Boggs, general manager of Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt in Bangor, is understandably anxious about the likely impact of a no-deal Brexit on the small business, our only indigenous yoghurt producer, and especially its significant exports to the Republic of Ireland. And most food processors here share his anxiety.
“The problem is that nobody really knows what will happen if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal. I was reasonably optimistic after the House of Commons voted against a no-deal Brexit a few months ago but things appear of have changed since the recent EU election.
“It seems a no-deal decision is now a distinct possibility by the end of October,” he says. “I’ve sought clarity from the Secretary of State, local politicians and various organisations here without much success. They clearly don’t know what to expect.
“We stand to lose heavily, for instance, on packaging we’ve already ordered. And there will be other costs if the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal. It’s all very frustrating,” he adds.
Those concerns have been heightened by a recent Northern Ireland Department of Economy report that suggests the Republic would have to build border posts to check on animals and food in a no-deal scenario.
A major concern for the farm-based producer of luxury Greek-style yoghurt is its successful business in the Republic with Aldi, the leading German retailer which has a network of around 200 stores there. And the business is continuing to grow strongly in sales and in terms of recent orders for three additional flavours.
“Aldi has become an immensely important customer for us over the past few years. We value their business greatly and especially in terms of support provided for the development of original products,” Bryan continues.
The company, a winner of a range of awards for quality and innovation including the prestigious Irish Quality Food Awards (IFQA), a major influence on retailers throughout the UK and Ireland, and UK Great Taste Awards, has developed fig and honey, strawberry and goji berry, and blackberry and vanilla yoghurts specifically for Aldi in the Republic. It already supplies three bold flavours to Aldi, which first approached Clandeboye following its IFQA success.
Clandeboye’s premium quality products and unique flavours earned the enterprising business the Small Producer Quality Food and Drink Award for Dairy in 2018. “That was a major contract we got purely on the back of winning that award. It was a fantastic outcome,” he adds.
In 2007, Lady Dufferin, owner of the extensive Clandeboye Estate, launched the yoghurt business as part of a farm diversification to produce yoghurt from milk from its pedigree grass-fed Holstein and Jersey herds. Yoghurt was chosen after research into potential dairy-based foods. Yoghurt was then not being produced in Northern Ireland – and Clandeboye remains Northern Ireland’s only business producing yoghurt here.
The authentic high-quality Greek style yoghurt was developed with assistance from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise near Cookstown.
Greek style yoghurt was just starting to be noticed as a trend in 2007, Bryan explains. “We looked at it and we found that most people were making it by adding milk powder and thickeners (gelatine), so we looked into what the traditional way was to produce Greek yoghurt with the proper, authentic cloth straining process.” Muslin cloth is used by the company in the straining process.
Clandeboye’s natural Greek style yoghurt was successful then and it remains the company’s best-selling product. The range of natural and flavoured yoghurts is also supplied to other retailers throughout the island, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Spar, as well as to caterers.
The success of its yoghurts has encouraged the company to explore an expansion in processing capacity to meet the growing demand. It is well positioned for further growth on the estate with its strong commitment to self-sufficiency.
The planned development will enable Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt to benefit from the estate’s long-standing green ethos. An aerobic digester on the estate already converts waste to electricity and hot water, especially for the historic Clandeboye House, offices, other buildings and the yoghurt plant.
“We’ll be able to access all the electricity and hot water we need to support the growth of the business,” he continues. “This means that most of what we require to produce premium yoghurt will be sourced from the estate. It’s very important to us that we do everything possible to minimise food miles, as well as our environmental impact,” adds Bryan.
Approaches from other retailers and foodservice businesses, particularly in Great Britain, have also influenced the growth plans.
Bryan believes the yoghurt category will continue to grow because of its perception as a relatively healthy product. “Whole milk in particular,” he explains, “is becoming more talked about, and more understood as a product that adds to a balanced diet.
“Our yoghurt is made using whole milk from our own pedigree and mostly grass-fed herds,” he adds. “We have noticed more of an understanding from consumers that whole milk products, such as ours, can contribute to a very balanced diet.”