Alastair’s unique Christmas box is tasty business

Food entrepreneur Alastair Bell received an early Christmas ‘box’ last week in the shape of a novel application of his award-winning Irish Black Butter savoury spread arranged by one of Ireland’s leading supermarkets involving a tasty collaboration with another food business in the Republic.

By Sam Butler
Saturday, 4th December 2021, 5:00 pm

Alastair’s successful Irish Black Butter is featured in a unique horseshoe ham treat for the Christmas table that went on sale this week in around 160 Aldi-Ireland stores across the Republic.

Aldi-Ireland launched its novel ‘Specially Selected Cook in the Bag Irish Black Butter Reduced Salt Horseshoe Ham’ in an eye-catching box.

The Christmas food box features ham from Connolly Meats in Scotstown, Co Monaghan along with a plastic jar of Irish Black Butter with instructions on how to use the spread, which is made from Armagh Bramley applies with spices and a touch of brandy, as a delicious glaze for the traditional festive meat.

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“It’s a very exciting development for my small business,” says Alastair, who founded Irish Black Butter in his Portrush hometown in 2017 as a new food option for Armagh Bramleys, one of just four local products to achieve European protection.

“I had been providing my savoury butter to the supermarket in the Republic for some time as part of its imaginative ’Grow with Aldi’ scheme that supports smaller and artisan food businesses in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Aldi subsequently approached me to see if I would be interested in collaborating with them and Connolly Meats, another of their suppliers, on the creation of the new ham.

“I jumped at the opportunity to be an integral part of such an initiative that would help to raise the profile of Irish Black Butter throughout the Republic, a huge retail market I’ve been working hard to crack for a couple of years now. It’s tremendous to see the new product carrying my brand. It’s a pity, however, that Aldi doesn’t have a presence here for local shoppers to enjoy the ham.”

He’s also delighted to be collaborating with Connolly’s Meats, a family run business that currently has three generations working together under the same roof, supplying high profile retailers in the Republic, such as Aldi, and in Great Britain.

“It’s been a marvellous and great learning experience working with another artisan food business which has an impressive reach across the Republic,” Alastair continues. “The collaboration is especially important because it is a development of my work to create new opportunities for the black butter particularly in terms of new food ideas. The butter has already been used as an ingredient by Morelli’s in Coleraine for ice cream and Bangor producers Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt and Heatherlea Bakery.

“The presence in 160 Aldi stores across Ireland is an incredible business opportunity for further sales there.”

Aldi taste tested the original Irish Black Butter glazed ham product in the Christmas Irish Quality Food Awards and gained a gold award for it. The supermarket described the product as “a simple cooking experience for our customers, whilst delivering a succulent and flavoursome product. With a 25% salt reduction, the product offers this additional benefit without sacrificing on taste”.

Another recent boost for Irish Black Butter in the Republic was a decision by leading food distributor La Rousse Foods in Dublin to include the richly flavoured spread, which has won UK Great Taste Awards and Blas na hEireann awards for premium quality and outstanding taste, in its portfolio of foods for customers in hospitality and catering in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The distribution agreement is Irish Black Butter’s first for these sectors and offers opportunities for chefs to use the spread as an ingredient for original meals in high-end hotels and restaurants.

Alastair continues: “The agreement is another potentially hugely significant endorsement for the spread in the Republic. We’ve been involved with La Rousse for some time and have supplied them with samples to test with their customers. We have seen chefs specially in Northern Ireland such as Michael Deane of Deane’s high profile and very successful restaurants in Belfast coming up with original dishes with the spread as an ingredient.

“The interest in the spread from customers has now encouraged La Rousse to add it to its portfolio of products for the hospitality sector. As well as being popular as an ingredient for meals, Irish Black Butter is successful as a condiment for cheeseboards.”

The small company, which produces the spread in NI, has also developed distribution in the Republic to retailers through an agreement with Sheridan’s in Dublin, the country’s main supplier of a range of cheeses and cheeseboard accompaniments.