Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Pie in the sty

After converting their outbuildings into a farm shop and using their leftover meat cuttings for pies, Cloughbane are on the pig's back, so to speak. Paul Gosling reports

Lorna Robinson, MD of Cloughbane Farm Shop, proudly shows off some of her company's homegrown produce

The last 10 years have been impressively busy for the Cloughbane Farm Shop. The business emerged from the Dungannon Farmers' Market, which started in 2002.

Today the farm shop has a turnover of nearly £3m and 32 staff.

"We were founding members of the farmers' market, my son Robert and myself," explains Cloughbane Farm Shop managing director Lorna Robinson.

"After about a year we realised it would be a good idea to set up a farm shop, because people wanted produce on a regular basis. So in March 2003 we opened the shop two afternoons a week and on Saturdays.

"In November 2004 we converted a pig house into a full-time farm shop and took on our first employee."

As the business grew, it found that customers bought a large quantity of the farm's prime beef steak, leaving unsold much of the stewing steak.

This encouraged the business to diversify into producing pies to use up what was unsold.

This became such a successful product line that a local shop asked to stock it and the pies are now widely available.

Several of the major supermarket chains in Northern Ireland and the Republic sell Cloughbane pies and produce, which are also available in the Isle of Man.

The main objective of the business now is to double turnover over the next three years, to be achieved by both establishing a major distribution arrangement in Great Britain and increasing the product range - four new products are about to be launched, including a new fish pie.

Another important element of the business expansion plans is to increase the role of the farm's website - www.cloughbanefarm.com - which has been redesigned and improved.

Online sales are mostly of raw produce, through a next day delivery service.

Cloughbane remains very much a family business.

Lorna's son Robert runs the farm, Lorna is in charge of personnel and marketing, while her other son Richard is responsible for the financial planning and control.

"We work well off each other," says Lorna.

"Marketing is very important to us. Our labels are labels of the farm. We are very precious of the fact that we are a farm shop, putting out country food from the farm, without any compromises.

"People do want good food. Ours is like making food in your own kitchen."

Lorna continues: "Initially there wasn't any big plan.

"We just kept on converting [the animal] houses on the farm. Eventually we knocked down the old pig house and converted it into a cook room.

"The priority is good quality, home made food from our own produce."

That approach is proving extremely popular, not only in terms of sales, but also through a range of accolades.

"The farm's curry pie has just been awarded the silver medal at the British Pie Awards.

"The farm was a finalist in the UK Small Processor of the Year awards. And, best of all, it has gained the title of Agri-Food Business of the Year."

Much of the credit for the success of the business has to be shared not only internally, but also with the outside bodies that have helped, stresses Lorna.

"We couldn't have done this without the support of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), Invest NI and the Ulster Bank," she explains.

"Invest NI gave us a lot of mentoring support when we were very small and they still do a lot.

"And they and DARD gave us a lot of capital support.

"The Ulster Bank have also been supportive and are always willing to come out.

"They know we are a growing business, hard working and keep a close eye on the purse strings. I have been very impressed with them."

And - it is clear from the string of awards - a lot of judges as well as the bank and the farm's customers have in turn been very impressed with Cloughbane Farm Shop.

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