Inside Track: Maurice Gilbert, co-founder, Ballyhoura Apple Farm, Cork
Making the most of what grows on trees
From juices to dressings and jellies to marmalade, Ballyhoura Apple Farm is making the most of what grows on trees.
What’s sets your business apart from the competition?
Taste, creativity and innovation set us apart. Where the food and drink sector is concerned, we believe taste has to be top of the list. To this end, we only use the freshest and finest apples from our orchards in Churchtown, Mallow, Co Cork.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my long time business partner and good friend, Gerry Murphy, who said “surround yourself with positive, like minded people”. It may be very hard when things are going against you, but if you can remain positive, it always makes a difference. Sometimes a positive word can be enough to turn something ordinary into something very special.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I spent most of my life in construction and I’d say it was being involved in the building of a housing scheme with a lot of repetition. The repetition dampened my creativity, but it is blooming now with the development of our new apple products and a revival of my interest in portrait painting.
And your major success to date?
Getting recognition from within the Irish food industry. It has boosted morale and given us the will to succeed. We have received numerous taste and artisan food awards, including two silvers in the best new product category from Blás na hÉireann [Irish food awards] for our red mulled apple juice and our Irish cherries in mulled apple syrup. We were also shortlisted for our Atlantic apple syrup.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
The technology entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan from Dragons’ Den. Self made, inspirational, no bull. By pulling others up, he pushes himself forward.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
So far bank funds have not been necessary as we have been in the fortunate position of being able to generate sufficient cash flow to run the company on a shoestring since we set up. To date, we have been in a product development mode and have survived with the help of our local Ballyhoura Development Leader programme and help from Enterprise Ireland in the form of an Innovation Voucher.
What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy?
We must build our economy from the bottom up. In little kitchens and sheds all over the place, people are creating real wealth by starting their own craft and food businesses. Fantastic, practical, grassroots people with initiative and drive beavering away in spite of the recession, lack of funding and over-regulation. These are the people who need to be nurtured, encouraged and supported. Their ideas will grow jobs not in tens or hundreds but in sustainable ones and twos in local communities and, if supported, will help rebuild our country.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Survival, dealing with lack of funding, juggling resources, being held back by things and only able to move one aspect of the business forward at a time.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
Because of our unique range of Irish artisan products, we believe we can grow our business in the short term. We have already developed award-winning juices and with the help of Teagasc, Moorepark and Enterprise Ireland, we are developing a unique range of syrups and exotic vinegars for cocktails and the high-end catering industry. I once said joking to my business partner, Gerry, there is Heinz 57 why not the Ballyhoura 69 ?
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
Not at the moment. We want to build up the value first and see where we go from there.