In today’s podcast, we meet Alison Abernethy, who together with her husband Will runs the highly-successful artisan butter-makers Abernethy Butter in Dromara, Northern Ireland. The business, which was started in 2005 is now spreading (pardon the pun) its success to the tables of celebrated restaurants (55 at our last count) across the UK.
Abernethy’s handmade golden rolls are the choice of Michelin-starred chefs, Marcus Waring and Heston Blumenthal. Notably, Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in England is currently ranked in the top 50 restaurants in the world.
Take what you know
Alison recounts how her father made and sold butter when she was growing up. He was rather proud of his skills and could be frequently seen at fairs and agricultural shows around Northern Ireland such as the , demonstrating to inquisitive townsfolk the art of creating this staple food product; once a common chore in all farms across the land. Each roll of butter is “lovingly made just like granny did in the farmhouse kitchen so many years ago”. Alison felt it was her duty to take the reins once her proud father was no longer able to continue the exhibitions. “Rather than let people down, I said that I would do them and that my husband would give me a hand”
Be different. Be unique
In the course of one particular country fair, Alison and Stan’s fate changed forever. A television producer, who happened to be in attendance remarked to the couple that he believed they had an exceptional product. He sugested that they should think of marketing and selling it commercially. The couple were taken aback and replied that ‘it was only butter’. Nonetheless, the producer’s observations had given the Abernethy’s encouragement to ‘look into it’ as Alison modestly puts it. Subsequent research confirmed that there was no one else in the area producing hand-churned butter made from cream, derived from grass-fed cows.
Consider artisan methods
“We use all the old traditional methods of years gone by’, Alison proudly exclaims. As you might expect, a product which is found on the tables of two and three-start Michelin restaurants is something special. Freshly pasteurised cream is delivered each morning from a farm of Holstein cows ten miles from their production unit. Will employs an electrical churner to churn approximately 20 litres for each batch.
As the small golden nuggets take shape, he washes them to remove traces of buttermilk. A little salt is added, whereupon each roll is weighed and shaped carefully by hand. The finished artisan product is then parceled in a simple brown-paper wrapper, resplendent with the simple and attractive Abernethy logo.
Get people to taste your products
Alison emphasises the importance of customers’ first-hand experience of your product. “When you are starting off, you have to get people to taste your product.’ We have to go out and do fairs and tastings in shops. Once they taste it, they love it. It’s then much easier for people to buy it. Otherwise, they go past it in a shop and they don’t know what it is. At the start, you just have to get out there’. Now that we are established, we don’t have to do this as much.”
Develop your range
Developing their range further, the couple now market smoked butter, handmade butter fudge as well as brandy butter, which traditionally accompanies Christmas pudding on the 25th of December. With an online shop, the Abernethy’s can now reach buyers further afield. Those who want to sample Abernethy butter can even order a locally-made ceramic butter dish together with a butter pat, a wooden implement traditionally used to imprint the stylised grooves, which are usually a hallmark of handmade butter.
Believe in yourself
“We have both been able to give up our jobs and work at this full-time. We’re now employing three members of staff as well”, Alison proudly volunteers. Yet, Alison is at pains to communicate just how unexpectedly success came to them at this stage of their lives. “We still have to pinch ourselves.” “When you have a Michelin-starred restaurant ringing you up and saying we want two hundred rolls of butter every week, you think wow!” “We now send on average two thousand rolls of butter to England in a week”.
The Abernethy’s account is enchanting. You cannot hep but be touched when she observes: “We’re just just two little country people in the middle of a mountain that make butter. And now we’re supplying it to all these top-end restaurants all over the UK. It’s just unbelievable.”
In this episode, you will also learn
- What the daily schedule for an artisan food business is like
- Why social media is vital in generating publicity for your brand
- Why customers have to taste your product at the time of purchase
- How attending fairs, exhibitions and tastings is crucial to getting your product noticed
- What times of the year are particularly crucial for an artisan food product
- Why it’s vital to love what you do when you are self-employed
Links and resources mentioned in this podcast episode:
- Abernethy Butter (Abernethy Butter, Dromara, Co Down, Northern Ireland)
- Abernethy on Facebook (Alison and Stan’s Facebook page moderated by the couple)
- The Fat Duck (Three-start Michelin restaurant run by Heston Blumenthal – London, England)
- Fortnum & Mason (world-renowned food emporium – London, England)
- Marcus Wareing (Marcus Wareing – Head Chef at the Berkeley – London, England)
- Michelin Guide (The famous Red Guide to some of the world’s famous restaurants and hotels)
- Brandy Butter (Traditional accompaniment to Christmas Pudding)
- Milk Separators (Provider of pasteurisers, milk-seperators and churns – Europe)
- Schier Company (Provider of new and refurbished butter-making equipment – USA)
Thanks to our guest and thanks to you!
A very special thanks to today’s guest, Alison Abernethy for sharing her tips and advice from her journey so far. Thanks especially to you for listening to today’s podcast here on makemoneywithfood.com, home of the food entrepreneur! If you have suggestions or tips to help us serve you in any way, please let us know.
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