Letterbox Larder from Burren Balsamics in face of Covid adversity

Susie Hamilton Stubber and Bob McDonald are models of how entrepreneurial ingenuity flourishes in the face of adversity.

Monday, 1st June 2020, 6:00 am
Burren Balsamics with Susie Hamilton and chef Bob McDonald at their facility in County Armagh

Susie Hamilton Stubber and Bob McDonald are models of how entrepreneurial ingenuity flourishes in the face of adversity.

Susie’s the founder and managing director of Burren Balsamics of Richhill in Co Armagh, an award-winning creator of fruit infused balsamic vinegars preferred by top chefs throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Bob is the company’s development chef.

While much of the small company’s longstanding business with hotels, restaurants and high-end delis was badly hit by the lockdown, novel products created by the

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Susie Hamilton Stubber, founder of the Letterbox Larder and Burren Balsamics in Richhill, Co Armagh

entrepreneurial duo are strengthening sales in retail and through home delivery.

Burren was also adversely affected when trade shows in Britain which yielded much of its sales outside Northern Ireland were also cancelled.

“We were hit by what was in effect a double whammy,” says Susie. “Our sales to hotels and restaurants and from participation at major food shows and high-end sporting events dried up. And many of the delis we supplied throughout the British Isles also reduced trading hours. We had to find new business…and fast. We still had bills and we needed to fund the steps we were planning to grow the business.”

The first big breakthrough came in the shape of significant retail business with German discounter Aldi Ireland and involved supplying 142 grocery supermarkets

Susie Hamilton Stubber, founder of the Letterbox Larder and Burren Balsamics in Richhill, Co Armagh

across the Republic of Ireland.

Burren created balsamics for Aldi Ireland under a novel brand, 56 Degrees, which went on sale in Aldi stories at the weekend. It is the Armagh company’s first deal with a major retail chain. 56 Degrees, which refers to the temperature at which the vinegars are produced, was created specifically for Aldi and to set this business apart from the established Burren identity.

“Winning business with Aldi is an immensely encouraging boost in retail,” Susie continues. “The deal certainly came at just the right time for us. We are now part of the Grow with Aldi scheme that supports smaller producers. Aldi was keen to list our balsamic after the team there sampled the products at a presentation in the Republic. And so we subsequently decided to create a separate brand for them using three of our existing and successful vinegars.”

But by far the most innovative product that Susie and Bob have launched during the lockdown is the highly original Letterbox Larder for home cooks wishing to create restaurant quality meals.

Explaining the thinking behind the novel concept, Susie adds: “We’ve developed a range of balsamic seasonings and rubs which enthusiastic cooks should have in their larder. These are vacuum packed in eco-friendly compostable packaging. They come in a cardboard box which slots easily into the letterbox. All the products are handcrafted by us and are completely clean, with no preservatives. Many of the original products in the pack contain our signature Balsamic Vinegar of Modena which has been dried for us for a delicious umami flavour and are the outcome of many months of painstaking research and tastings.”

The pack contains seasonings and flavourings used by top chefs in the UK, Ireland and further afield and includes spice bags, black garlic cloves, wild garlic, vegetarian/vegan sprinkles and rubs for meats and poultry. Cooks can select the contents for their larder pack from an extensive schedule of flavours on the Letterbox Larder website (www.theletterboxlarder.com). The bespoke pack is then delivered to their letterbox.

The Letterbox Larder is among the most innovative produced in the artisan food industry here and has also already won widespread acclaim from leading food writers in Britain and the Republic.

Burren Balsamics was established by Susie, an experienced chef with catering experience in Britain, in 2014. The company has pioneered a portfolio of delicious and innovative culinary vinegars, seasonings and other products for professional chefs as well as home cooks. The vinegars include locally sourced premium fruits, such as Bramley apples, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and strawberries.

Many of the vinegars have won major recognition in competitions including 18 UK Great Taste Stars and have twice won the overall Best Artisan product in the Blas an hEireann Irish National Food Awards.

Set amid Armagh’s picturesque apple orchards, Burren Balsamics is also focused on strengthening its ‘green’ credentials and has a strong commitment to zero waste.

This means that wholesome fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices leftover from infusing its balsamic vinegars are now being recycled in the development of other original and natural products. Susie and Bob, in addition, have used the leftovers to produce relishes and chutneys for other local artisans including Ballylisk of Armagh cheese.

The third product so far in the zero waste range is an onion jam which uses the onions left over from the two star Great Taste Award roast onion black balsamic.

This product has just won business from a leading international airline, another new sales channel developed during the lockdown.

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