Ballymaloe Foods' export manager, Alexandra Dirand, shares news of the brand’s recent entry into the Canadian market

Global ambition

Article appeared in issue 4, 2021

Ballymaloe Foods was founded in 1990 when Yasmin Hyde began making Ballymaloe Relish in her kitchen, using her mother’s recipe. Today, the family-run business produces a range of relishes, sauces and pickles using locally sourced Irish ingredients such as west Cork onions, Dungarvan Irish Stout and Irish Cider Vinegar from Long Meadow, and free-range eggs from Clonarn Clover in county Meath. The company recently announced its first major distribution partner in Canada, CBF Imports, where it aims to tap into the ex-pat market, as Alexandra Dirand, Ballymaloe Foods export manager, explains.

“We believed Canada would be a strong market for us, so we found an agent there to help us understand it. We are focused on the Irish ex-pat and diaspora market and decided that in our first phase, we would target specialised retail channels, mainly the independent ‘British’ stores – there are about 200 of them across Canada. They stock British brands and some well-known Irish brands. Most of those stores are aware of the Ballymaloe brand as customers were asking for it. We interviewed owners of these stores and asked them where they were buying their products from to get an understanding of the route to market, and then we started meeting with importers and distributors. It took about six to nine months.

“We are starting with seven products in the marketplace: five from the core line including our Original Relish, which is the bestseller in the whole market; pepper relish; mint jelly; and steak sauce in different formats. There will also be two seasonal products available for Thanksgiving and Christmas: cranberry sauce and apple sauce.”

Phase two of their strategy, she says, is to secure listings in tier-two supermarkets and retail chains. “These are smaller chains that are usually independently owned and have British or European food sections where we hope Canadians will pick it up.”

The entry into Canada follows a successful launch into Australia in 2020 where the brand is listed in 120 Coles stores across the country. “We export to Australia through a distributor, Taste Ireland. They import only iconic Irish food brands, and all their products are listed in the main supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths. In Coles, our Original Relish is available in a squeezy bottle. It is the same great taste but smooth in texture and we have a specific label highlighting barbecue usage because that is where we felt there was the biggest opportunity, not just for ex-pats but also amongst Australians.”

While brand recognition among the ex-pat community in Australia is strong, the challenge is creating awareness of its presence in the market. “We did a survey of Irish ex-pats in Australia at the end of last year and only 50% of those asked were aware that Ballymaloe was available in Coles, although we’d had lots of press coverage and digital activity.”

To pre-empt this occurring in the Canadian market, Alexandra says they have worked with the importer to create awareness of the brand’s availability. “It is a more complicated market because our stockists are independently run. It’s not like being in 120 Coles stores, so we have a stockists section on our website and will ensure that every single store is listed on the map.”

Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) has provided support through various programmes, as well as ‘on the ground’ knowledge. “Bord Bia has been great across all of our export markets. It runs programmes helping companies such as ours to develop commercial marketing strategies and helps with digital marketing strategies. The main help is its offices in the different markets where their people are locally based. When I need to know if a competitor’s product is in store, they will check it for me. That is very handy for retail.

“We have access to their library in Dublin because we are members of the Bord Bia and Origin Green programme but when it comes to market knowledge and deciding whether to target the French retail market, for example, they are super helpful because they know the other brands in the market.”

Foodservice focus

While in global markets the export strategy is securing listings in ex-pat focused retail, in Europe the primary activity is in the foodservice channel. “Most of our business in Europe, about 80%, is in the foodservice sector. We have a strong presence in the UK, Germany and The Netherlands, and secondary markets like Spain and Belgium. In our primary markets, we sell our catering formats – 1.3kg, 3kg jars and 5kg pails – to foodservice distributors who sell to premium and fast casual channels that offer high-end burgers, sandwiches, bagels and so on.

“In most European markets, people don’t even know what relish is or the Ballymaloe brand so we just want to get as many of them as possible to taste it so they can understand it and hopefully love it. Where we have been most successful in foodservice is where we have partnered with a good distributor who hosts workshops with customers and restaurant owners to have them try the product.”

Chasing listings in the large European retailers, she says, would require a massive investment, however Covid-19 has prompted them to consider other avenues. “We started looking at specialised retail opportunities in those countries – independent stores such as cheese shops and fine food stores where they sell high-quality products and we have begun targeting those, and it’s been quite successful so far.”