Agronomist Sean Kane, along with his colleagues at White’s Oats in Tandragee, Co. Armagh celebrated World Porridge Day with bowls of creamy porridge from oats grown by its local farmers. They are also now gearing up to mark the centenary of their iconic Speedicook Porridge brand next year.
Generations of families across Northern Ireland have enjoyed the company’s naturally wholesome porridge from locally farmed oats over the past century. While White’s is renowned for the outstanding taste, creaminess and consistent quality of its best-selling Speedicook Porridge Oats, the small company also mills and markets globally an impressive portfolio of instant porridge, organic oats, jumbo oats toasted oats, protein and fibre enriched oats, oat muesli and granola.
A graduate in Agriculture from Queen’s University, Sean (28) joined White’s in 2017 as Supply Chain Co-ordinator and has been responsible for spearheading White’s process of bringing continuous improvement to the science and techniques of oat growing across UK and Ireland.
White’s, a Food NI member company, has vast knowledge of the science, genetics and techniques required to grow and process premium plant-based foods, now on-trend in the UK, Ireland and other parts of the world. It’s an enterprising company with a strong science base and successful track record in customer-focused new and natural product development.
Commenting on his first two years in the hugely important role, Sean says: ‘’The most rewarding aspect of the job is working with professional farmers and supporting them in their decision making on farm to help improve both oat yield, quality and, of course, margins.”
An enthusiastic sportsman with a passion for golf in particular, Sean plays a crucially important role in the company’s professional grower’s initiative for now close on 55 growers across Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This strategic initiative is an integral part of the company’s overall commitment to improving standards of grain growing and thereby to ensure superb products for its customers here and further afield. And it’s an initiative that also takes account of environmental concerns especially crop rotation to ‘rest’ the land.
The quality of White’s quality porridge oats and oat cereals was once again endorsed at this year’s Great Taste Awards in which the ambitious and progressive business scooped a further four gold stars, making it among the most ‘decorated’ producers in the UK of oat products in a market moving increasingly to plant-based foods, like oats, with recognised health benefits.
Sean, who grew up working on the family beef and sheep farm, near Newcastle, in Co. Down, adds: “It’s the authentic and nutritious taste of locally grown produce that’s now being increasingly enjoyed in homes, cafes and canteens here and further afield.
“The ingredients in White’s porridge oats and oat cereals are all fully traceable and reinforce the provenance and heritage that consumers are increasingly demanding. Oats, furthermore, are recognised as a very versatile ingredient for a range of foods beyond breakfast. Our nutritionists have long been developing tasty recipes with oats for all meals,” he says.
White’s was founded in 1841 in rural Tandragee, Co. Armagh by Thomas Henry White who came from a family of millers.
The fledgling soon established itself as a reputable force in the oat milling industry, which enabled it to establish a strong reputation as an innovative and pioneering spirit. This was evident in the first patented wafer oat in late 1800s followed by the launch of Speedicook Porridge, a quick cooking oat flake in 1920 and which went on to became a trusted household name and a market leading porridge brand in Northern Ireland.
From its humble beginnings on the grassy banks of the River Cusher in Tandragee, White’s, which in 2016 celebrated 175 years of milling, now has an annual turnover of £15 million and processes 26,000 tonnes of oats every year.
It is Northern Ireland’s only porridge and oat cereal producer and Ireland’s largest oat miller. And the company also has a global profile, marketing its products throughout Great Britain, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Russia and China. It’s become one of our most successful food exporters.
Sean continues: “A recent example of our growing success outside Northern Ireland is the contract to supply our apple and cinnamon toasted oats to over 800 Aldi supermarkets across Great Britain, a key and fast growing market for us.
“This substantial new business is a further development of the close working partnership that we’ve enjoyed with Aldi Ireland over the past decade,” he adds. The company also supplies most of the UK’s leading retailers.
White’s is part of a local farmer’s co-operative and works with a network of 30 local growers in Northern Ireland, some of whom have been supplying the Tandragee mill with oats for three generations.
“It is the strength of the partnerships with local farmers that enable us to continually produce quality, award winning porridge oats and oat based breakfast cereals. In addition, we have a growing network of organic oat growers outside of Northern Ireland, where we are developing strong partnerships with British organic farmers. We are keen to recruit more growers here and in Britain,” he adds.
The White’s milling process is also unique in that it gives the oats a special character in terms of taste and texture, delivering a distinctively nutty texture and creamy taste – resulting in numerous Great Taste Awards from the Guild of Fine Food over the years.