Shoppers in Texas will soon be able to enjoy a unique food from Portrush in Co Antrim that’s been billed as “a new taste of Ireland” and has also just been shortlisted for a prestigious UK Quality Food and Drink award with many much bigger companies in Great Britain.
Around 12 food stores in Dallas and other cities in the ‘Lone Star State’ are set to receive the first consignments of Irish Black Butter, a multi-award-winning sweet/savoury spread that’s made from Armagh Bramley apples and a special blend of spices, as a result of a deal between the Co Antrim business, one of Northern Ireland’s smallest artisan enterprises that’s owned and run by Alastair Bell, and Eurok Inc.
Food NI member Irish Black Butter, a UK Great Taste Award winner, has also just shipped consignments to New York and Boston in repeat business with a food distributor there. And the Portrush company is also following up approaches for the spread from a food business in Florida.
Headquartered in Dallas, Eurok, Inc is an importer focusing on “unique and distinctive food brands from the UK and from Europe”. The company says “its products are connected to the people and the land where they are made”. “They taste great, are traditional and authentic or are the results of their local trends”. Managing director Cedric Chastenat continues that he “created the company to connect specialty food US retailers and independent stores to a small number of interesting brands”.
“Foods open us up to new discoveries; like a cultural bridge. Each product here has its story; an expression of a trilogy: craft, people, and earth,” he adds. Irish Black Butter’s Alastair Bell met the Eurok boss at a ‘meet the buyer’ event in London organised by the UK Department of Business and Trade (DBT), the body charged with growing the UK’s exports. The event also led to another local company, Armagh’s Burren Balsamics, winning first-time business with Mexico’s most prestigious department store.
“The Europ chief sampled Irish Black Butter at the event in London and was interested in adding my product to his extensive portfolio of foods from the UK and Europe. He proposed distributing the sauce initially to at least six food stores in the Dallas Metroplex and a similar number in other cities around the state.
“It is an immensely exciting development for us in what is the second biggest state in the US and one which has historic links with Northern Ireland,” adds Alastair. “The business link will give us a significant foothold in Texas and especially the huge Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area. It’s the fourth biggest urban area in the US with a population of around seven million,” he adds.
The deal in Texas follows Irish Black Butter linking up with a company based in Boston and New York City to supply the sauce for hampers shipped throughout the US. He’s also confident a trip to Nashville, Tennessee will yield new business in another state with strong links to Northern Ireland. The Co Antrim enterprise, in addition, also recently won repeat business for the sauce the prestigious shop at the Houses of Parliament in London.
“Our sales outside Northern Ireland have been growing steadily since the pandemic and everything is very encouraging,” Alastair continues. “It’s exciting for an artisan venture like Irish Black Butter. But it has required a tremendous amount of hard work, diligence and patience over the years. He’s the first to admit that running an artisan business is a tough and often lonely existence. While he has an immensely supportive family around him, the Portrush entrepreneur still spends his time behind the wheel, in the air and on the phone in pursuit of sales for the product.
He’s driven the length and breadth of the island of Ireland and much of Britain in building up a customer base for an idea he came up in 2017 and was helped to become a commercial product by chef Paul Clarke, the managing director of En- Place Foods in Cookstown and CRAIC Foods in Craigavon. “I drove around 50,000 miles last year and that’s more than the circumference of the globe,” Alastair laughs. “Creating awareness of what the product is, especially in the US and other global markets, is quite a challenge for an artisan business,” he says. “But there’s no easy way to success, no magic solution in artisan food,” he continues. “There’s just no alternative to hard work on the road,” adds Alastair.