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09 April 2013

Featured Business: Cuinneog

Posted By: AIB Business


Name: Seamus Mulligan, Business Development Manager at Cuinneog, a dairy industry company, which produces traditional Irish Farmhouse Country Butter and Natural Buttermilk.

Employees: Eight

Since: 1990

Lifestage: Established

Company Background:

Creating premium and award-winning food products – using traditional methods employed by previous generations of Irish people – is certainly a feat.

For Tom and Sheila Butler, the founders of Cuinneog in County Mayo, it all started when they were asked by a distributor if they could supply butter they churned at home by hand.

Since then, over the best part of a quarter of a century, Cuinneog Irish Farmhouse Country Butter has been served in top Irish hotels and restaurants, been favoured by some of the country’s best known chefs, and become available on supermarket shelves.

The company’s two main products have won numerous prestigious awards. Irish Farmhouse Country Butter has laid claim to a Eurotoque award and five Gold Great Taste Awards (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012). The company’s other main product, Natural Buttermilk, won a Gold Great Taste Award in 2011 and 2012.

Cuinneog’s current business development manager, Seamus Mulligan, who spoke to AIB on behalf of the Butlers, was involved in preparing the original business plan in 1990 and getting the business off the ground.

Mulligan, who trained as an accountant and ran a film company with a number of international entities until 2007, got involved in Cuinneog again in recent years.

His main challenge for 2013 will be the further development of the UK market – Cuinneog is currently available in selected ASDA and Waitrose stores.

Interview with Seamus Mulligan


What was the inspiration for setting up your business? 

The Butler family had a family farm and they were approached by a distributor of dairy products and asked if it would be possible for them to make traditional Irish country butter commercially because they made it in the home all the time, as a lot of houses did. It was a farm diversification project at the time and was something that developed into a very successful business.


What have been the highlights to date?

We were very proud to be the butter that was chosen for the top table at the state banquet in honour of Queen Elizabeth when she came to Ireland. We have won numerous awards for our products over the years, including seven gold Great Taste Awards from the British Guild of Fine Food since 2006. We’ve also won a Eurotoque award for the butter – it’s a very prestigious award. At the end of the day, the ongoing highlight is that the customers are out there going into the stores, picking up the products and buying it. Sometimes people forget that’s what it’s all about. You can have all this grandeur but the most important thing is that the customers are taking the product, putting it into the shopping basket, going to the till and paying. That’s what keeps a business going.


How did you initially fund your business?

It was funded by the Butler family and also with grant support from Mayo County Enterprise Board and the local Leader company, Mayo South West Development Company.


Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?

No – they are premium products at the very top of the market from a quality and a price point of view of course. We haven’t really diversified into other areas.


What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?

It goes back again to the people – getting the sales and the product recognised as a quality product and something that’s also being used by the top chefs and top restaurants in the country. There’s a great sense of pride in that.


How do you achieve a work-life balance?

At the end of the day, you still go home to your family and do the normal things that you do. I’m involved in sports and community organisations, as well as the job, from which you get an awful lot back.


Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?

My main interest is in food companies. There are a number of people out there who really have been a great success in what they’re doing in small to medium size food companies, despite the recession. There’s one excellent producer of cheese, Cooleeney Cheese, which exports to many countries in the world and does very well. Another great example of spirited entrepreneurship is a company called The Foods of Athenry. They had a devastating blow when their complete production facilities were burned down in 2011, and they have come back fighting better than ever.


What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?

We use smartphones, and our website is very effective. You will find Cuinneog on Twitter and Facebook. We don’t sell online because our product is difficult to ship – it’s chilled, so you can’t just send it off by courier.


Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?

We constantly evaluate what the customer wants and we strive to give that to them. The customers that buy Cuinneog country butter or natural buttermilk are people who are prepared to pay a premium price for our quality products. The process to make our butter is four days; it’s a few hours in a normal dairy environment. It’s a premium product, and the price point reflects that. We talk to the customers all along and try to visit every store we’re listed in two to three times a year. We keep talking to the people.


What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?

The biggest challenge the business has faced in recent years is the increasing prices of the raw materials we use. Milk prices have increased 20-25% in the last two to three years.


What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?

Basically we are a “red tape” nation and things could be simplified, primarily in the way the State interacts with business. Employees are heavily taxed. Of course access to credit is also a big problem. There are also some blockages that really need to be looked at and resolved as a matter of urgency.


What part of running a business comes to you naturally?

Selling. To run the business, you have to have a broad range of skills – from interpersonal skills to financials. You need a broad understanding of production. Cuinneog has an excellent production manager here. I think different people have different strong points. I’m certainly good with the figures but, at the end of the day, the real comfort zone is getting out there and getting the customer to buy and stock the products.


What has been the best reward in running the business?

I think the reward really comes from the satisfaction of producing the high quality products we produce and that consumers buy it, as well as the fact that Cuinneog products are used at the top end of the market in hotels and restaurants.


What was the main catalyst for growth?

The company has grown organically over the years. We have constantly pursued opportunities, for example, having our products available in the multiples. The launch into those stores 10 or 15 years ago changed the whole dynamic of how the company was operating. That’s where we achieved a certain level of growth. Penetrating the UK and food services market has also led to steady growth.


How did you scale/grow your business?

We had an ambition to get into the UK market and we have products available in the UK. It’s not a massive market but it’s beginning to grow. At the beginning of 2012, we launched a programme to try and develop the products more in the restaurant and hotel sectors. The reason for that is you need to spread your customer base a bit so you have options available to you and you have a number of customer categories who are using the product.

How do you get ideas to further your business?

1) Ideas from management and staff. 2) Customers. 3) What people are doing in the industry.

What motivates you to stay running a business?

It’s something I’ve been doing for practically all my life and I think the motivation comes from the rewards that come with it (not necessarily always financial). It’s always a challenge and, once your product is out there, your product is sold and your business is paying its bills, it’s a great motivation to keep going and continue to grow.

What’s your vision for the future?

The vision is to expand both the product range and the market we operate in. We’ve done a considerable amount of work on the development and introduction of new products into our range, which will benefit the financial wellbeing of the business. We’ve done significant research on a couple of markets we think we’ll be able to infiltrate during the course of 2013.

What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?

Getting the customer to understand that our butter is different from any butter in the market.


Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?

We worked with WESTBIC, the Business Innovation Centre in the West of Ireland. Seamus McCormack is their man who deals with Mayo. Seamus has done quite a bit of work with us, mentoring us and pointing us in the right direction over the years. It has been a very positive experience for us.


What’s the best business advice you’ve received?

Don’t reduce your price if you’re under pressure to do so – if it means it could damage your business. Stick with your plan.


What’s your favourite motivational business quote?

Why complicate what you can simplify.


What would be your advice to businesses starting out?

You have to do your research properly. You can’t be over-optimistic. We all have been, of course – it’s a trait of an entrepreneur to be over-optimistic. You need to be careful with that; don’t make too many assumptions until you’ve gone out and tested the market. Most importantly, know the regulations of the sector you’re involved in and be absolutely sure you collect your money.


What, if anything, would you do differently?

I would have diversified our markets earlier in the life cycle of the business. We were slow to embrace social media, which now works for us.


Contact Details


Phone: +353 94 90 31425


Social media:

Cuinneog on Facebook

Interviewed by: Web Content Partners

Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.

Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.

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