“The big challenge for a company like ours is being able to scale up from the kitchen table without compromising on quality. We’ve managed to do that.”
A “farmer to the core”, Alan Kingston started his food business Glenilen Farm when his wife Valerie began using milk from the family farm in Drimoleague, west Cork, to make cheesecakes for local farmers’ markets in 1997.
They started out as sole traders and, by 2006, had registered as a limited company. By 2015 the business had a turnover in excess of €4 million, employed 32 full-time and six part-time staff.
Its range of dairy-based products, including cheesecakes, yoghurts and butter, are sold throughout Ireland. It has been selling in the UK since 2011 and by 2015, that market accounted for 16% of its revenues.
What’s your business’s elevator pitch?
Our bullseye is ‘authentic farmhouse taste’. Everything else radiates from that. Our products are about authenticity, quality and consistency, and making sure our products match what we say about them on the pack.
What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?
The big challenge for a company like ours is being able to scale up from the kitchen table without compromising on quality. We’ve managed to do that.
What was the lowest moment?
We learned an important lesson when we first entered the UK market. We were supposed to go into 70 stores in one multiple but all of a sudden we were in 900 and it was just too hard to cope.
We managed it but capacity-wise it just wasn’t sustainable for us, and after four months we lost the listing. That was a few years back. Now it’s easier because the big multiples will take you on in a small way, and walk you up through the volumes.
How have you coped with setbacks?
Learn from them. What happened to us when we first entered the UK market never happened to us again. Afterwards, we realised that what you’re offering has to work for both the retailer and for you.
I know a lot of small producers are very wary of big retailers but as we learned, you’ve got to recognise that they’ve got all these systems and structures in place. There’s targets to meet per square metre and all the rest of it. You’ve got to be able to work within that.
What’s your attitude to risk?
Don’t be afraid to try. If you don’t try, how can you ever succeed? There has to be a little risk in building a business, just as there is risk in farming. It’s part of it.
I’m comfortable with risk, and I think one of the ways you manage it is by having a good team around you. Val is more risk-averse, and I think the teamwork between the two of us, as a husband and wife team, works really well on that score.