LOCAL HEROES Knives are out for new butter brand with attitude and flavour to match
The pair initially sold their butter in farmers markets and they have since made inroads into Supervalu, BWG (which owns shops such as Mace and Spar), and independent stores such as Avoca and Donnybrook Fair.
“Improper Butter is a premium product and is targeted at people who are very interested in food,” says Hannah. “So we are not trying to appeal to a certain person of a certain age — our product is for people who want to spend their money on food. That lends itself to urban areas in the likes of Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny and Cork.”
Improper Butter also exports its butter to Bahrain — and to London.
“We have our butter in a small chain of supermarkets in Bahrain,” says Hannah. “The demand for our butter there is coming from the expat market — who are looking for products from the British Isles. Irish butter has a good name abroad. It has a great shelf life so it travels well.”
Although their butter is currently for sale in London, the company is unsure if it will export more to Britain going forward. “The British market is very interesting — everyone has to factor in Brexit,” says Hannah. “So we need to see if there are other markets we can export to.”
Although it’s early days for the company, the duo would eventually like to export to France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. “Germany has a massive appetite for flavoured butters,” says Hannah. “The challenge is competition and price — the German consumer is very discerning on price.”
Hannah also feels that there are some parts of France, such as Brittany, where it could be hard to for the company to establish a presence. “In certain parts of France, there are areas where they look to their own butter,” says Hannah.
Improper Butter will be launching two new products at the Bloom Festival this June bank holiday weekend — a root vegetable mashed potato and a garlic bread. Its root vegetable mash comes in three flavours — creamed potato, sweet potato with chilli, and potato and celeriac with nutmeg. The duo have also finalised their own ‘limited edition’ range of seasonal butters: a spring butter made of garlic, rosemary and lemon; harissa butter for summer barbecues; and a sage butter for autumnal dishes.
“Seasonal butters are something we’re really interested in — they’re something new for consumers to look forward to and something new to try,” says Hannah.
“We had a sage, rosemary and thyme turkey basting butter out in the run-up to Christmas. That took off well — people buy a lot at Christmas. We were delighted with the reaction to it and the sales from it. With the sage and rosemary turkey basting butter, we were telling people exactly what to do with it and I think that really helped.”
Hannah acknowledges that the companies that produce cooking sauces are big competitors of her business — as cooking sauces are often used by Irish people to add flavour to their meals. She’s not daunted by the competition though.
“It’s a really good time for butter — people continue to tell us at food shows or even in supermarkets that they are switching back to butter,” said Hannah.
“I suppose there is a trend around ‘everything in moderation’ or ‘back to basics’ — which is great to see.”
The founders of Improper Butter, Hannah O’reilly and Elaine Lavery: ‘We take the quality of our butter for granted here in Ireland’ Photo: Tony Gavin