Sheep's milk yoghurt from the Flanagan family farm
No matter where you go in Ireland, you’ll find sheep. With fleecy coats against the Irish weather and a healthy appetite for grass and clover, sheep are well suited to the Irish landscape. Velvet Cloud Yoghurt takes fresh sheep’s milk from the Flanagan family farm and turns it into a delicious, digestion friendly alternative to cows’ milk yoghurt.
Aisling and Michael Flanagan are the founders of Irish start-up, Rockfield Dairy, which produces the Velvet Cloud range. Both of the Flanagans have extensive experience in the food business. Michael has worked in IT, finance, and business development roles in both Glanbia and Hewlett-Packard. Aisling comes from a marketing & branding background, having worked for Bord Bia, Heinz, and Ogilvy Ireland. She runs her own marketing, sales, & business development consultancy, ARMS Marketing & Training. Having both worked abroad, they decided that the time was right to start their own business together in Ireland.
Farming is in the blood for Michael, who grew up on the family dairy farm in Co. Mayo. While working abroad, Aisling and Michael noticed the prevalence of sheep’s milk products in places like France and Italy. Despite the strong tradition of sheep farming in Ireland, there is a noticeable absence of ovine milk products on Irish shelves.
Changing consumer demand has placed an increasing emphasis on healthy foods. The list of reasons to switch to sheep’s products is a long one. It contains 90% more calcium and 60% more protein than cow or goat milk. Sheep’s milk yoghurt doesn’t require any thickeners and doesn’t need to be homogenised, making it perfect for the clean eating market. Velvet Cloud contains live cultures. The growth of the gluten free sector has raised consumer awareness of digestive wellbeing and the role of allergens. Sheep’s milk rarely triggers allergic reactions in people with lactose intolerances. With only a handful of sheep dairy flocks in Ireland, the market seemed primed for a sheep’s milk product range.
Despite her experience in the food sector, starting a new business presented its own challenges for Aisling. “When you’re starting in retail you want to build an excellent reputation for yourself. That comes with a learning curve.” Early wins for Aisling and Michael saw Velvet Cloud being distributed into Ireland’s leading health food store distributor, as well as one of Ireland’s premier food service distributors. Their expansion into retail outlets such as Supervalu necessitated a GS1 barcode being added to their products.
Aisling believes that there’s potential to grow the business substantially. “This time next year we’d like to be exporting”. SMEs seeking a listing in foreign retailers can face a number of obstacles. According to Bord Bia, scalability is a key issue for most small Irish food producers. Access to finance can also be a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome. Fortunately, their GS1 barcodes are accepted by retailers the world over. Aisling notes that there are lots of supports for SMEs looking to scale, including the Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland.
Exporting isn’t the only goal that Michael and Aisling have over the next year. They plan to launch different formats onto the market, including smaller packs for school lunches and people on the go. Another area of growth in the coming year is to branch out from yoghurt into sheep’s milk cheese.
You can find out more about Velvet Cloud on their website. If videos of incredibly cute sheep are your thing, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.