'No barriers exist once supply is guaranteed'
Producer Profile: The Little Milk Company
Published 19/08/2015 | 02:30
The US market is so big that it can be overwhelming for small producers to access, but the 'grass-fed' produce is a major selling point, as one Irish co-operative found.
The Little Milk Company, a collective of 10 organic dairy farmers certified with IOFGA, produce a range of award winning dairy products.
The first step Conor Mulhall, general manager, took to take a slice of the billion dollar market was to attend a trade show and meet plenty of people in the sector.
"We met a lot of people and finally settled on a distributor that suited our needs. We knew the more people your product passes through, the smaller your profits and we needed to get to the market efficiently. So far, things are going well," he said.
"Our focus now is getting our products out there. Currently we supply our mature and mild cheddar, brie and Brewer's Gold into 32 stores in the mid-west, and from September our cheeses will be available in a chain of high-end stores in Texas," added Conor.
"Small teething problems occurred such as the requirement for 12 digit barcodes rather than the 13 digits used here, the US date format is different, so labelling must be altered, but generally, no major barriers exist once you can guarantee product supply."
Bill George (left), a dairy farmer from Carlow, who milks 90 British Friesian cows and five Montbeliarde cows, is a member of The Little Milk Company.
"We are happy with our progress into the US market so far. The distributor we work with in the US was here to visit my farm to get a feel for what we are doing so he can market our cheeses more effectively," he said.
"He especially liked the grass-fed aspect of how the milk is produced. We ship our cheese which takes 21 days door to door. As a result, they lose one month's shelf life on our brie and Brewer's Gold cheeses but they seem to be okay with that.
"We are just dipping our toe into the water, but it is our hope that in 12 to 18 months, the US will be a substantial size of our business," said Bill.
At the moment, things are favourable for Irish companies exporting to the US, as the strong dollar is making Irish products cheaper.
The organic standards agreement allows easier market access and, most importantly, the strength of the organic market really makes it a potential option for Irish producers.