Running A Family Business in Ireland

By Beatrice Whelan, Social Media & Content Specialist at Sage

Running A Family Business In IrelandGlenisk are a great example of a well run family business and a great Irish food brand. Glenisk were organic long before it became ‘fashionable’ and their commitment to organic and building the reputation of the food they produce is an extremely important lesson for the food industry in Ireland. I interviewed Vincent Cleary, MD of Glenisk about running a family business, sustainability and going organic.

BW: Tell us about Glenisk. How many members of the family are involved in the business?

VC: Glenisk is an award winning family business, based in Killeigh, Co Offaly, producing a range of organic milk and yogurts and goats milk and yogurt. The company is owned and managed by five members of the Cleary Family. Last year, we celebrated 25 years in business and our company has grown significantly in recent years: from a single paid employee in 1987, we now employ 55 people and work with a further 50 small family farms around Ireland to source milk for our products. Our aim is to make delicious and healthy dairy products in the most sustainable way possible. For us, sustainability covers a broad spectrum, from championing organic agriculture, using renewable energy, sourcing recyclable packaging, and using innovative systems to reduce and eliminate waste.

BW: What advice would you give to other people thinking of starting a family business?

VC: The advice is the same for anyone starting a business, whether it’s with family or not: create something you feel passionate about, strive for excellence and continuously evolve and improve. Naturally, you will want to feel confident that a market exists for your product or service, but a little faith goes a long way. When Glenisk first made the decision to convert to organic, it was an enormous leap because there was very little supply of organic milk and virtually no customer demand. It meant a long process convincing farmers to convert to organic, persuading retailers to sell the products and helping customers understand the benefits. But we believed in the product and the potential for organics.

BW: What are the business challenges that are unique to a family business?

VC: Glenisk is a second generation family business; my father Jack Cleary set up Glenisk in the mid 1980s, and I and my siblings took over the business a decade later. It presents specific challenges in that it’s simply not always possible for five individuals to agree! However, over time, the structure has evolved; each family member has their own specific area of responsibility and expertise. And while disagreements might arise from time to time, ultimately we are all united in a common vision for Glenisk.

BW: The food sector in Ireland seems to be doing particularly well, what do you think is the secret of the success that so many food brands are experiencing?

VC: Ireland has a lot of natural advantages in terms of food production, including location and our climate,  so we’ve developed a reputation for good food at home and abroad. There are threats to this and we need to be vigilant – for example, I’m strongly opposed to the introduction of GM into our food  – not just in terms of raw ingredients but also further down the food chain, in areas like GM in animal feed, which is another reason why I feel organic is so important. We have a clean, green reputation in Ireland and we have to protect that and cultivate a best practice for food production, that prizes quality and keeps GM out. Irish people will naturally choose Irish food when they can, but not simply because its Irish. Food producers have a responsibility to make the best quality food they can, and provide it the best possible value they can, so that customers feel genuinely rewarded for choosing Irish.

BW: Has the perception and uptake of Organic foods changed in Ireland in the last few years?

VC: Interest and uptake may ebb and flow somewhat, depending on the time, but organic is not a fad. It’s a truly sustainable way to produce food that offers lots of other benefits, and that’s not going to change. We were organic long before it became ‘fashionable’ here and we’ll be organic long after. But we’re big believers in innovation. We’ve never seen Glenisk as simply the organic alternative to other yogurt and so we don’t stand still. In recent years, we’ve created new no added sugar yogurts for babies, kids – and for adults.

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  • I’ve long been a fan of Glenisk, not just because of their selling organic and goat milk products but their whole philosophy. I remember reading in the Farmers Journal (could be 6 or 7 years ago) about the finances as a company and being impressed that so much was being invested back into the business rather than being taken as large salaries. Even their current offer of free books on the goats milk really communicates that they are a friendly family business that gives back to their community.