Launching Carbery’s 'Futureproof' sustainability bonus for farmers in Coppeen, West Cork, on the farm of John Buttimer, are (from left): John Buttimer Snr, John Buttimer, Eunice Buttimer, Eliza Mae, Catelyn, Euan, Carbery CEO, Jason Hawkins, Director of Sustainability, Enda Buckley and Chairman, Cormac O’Keeffe.
It began as a small business enterprise that brought dairy farmers in West Cork together, but Carbery Dairy is now part of a worldwide success story
Carbery Dairy is a leading producer of cheese for 50 countries around the world, supplying the industrial, food service and retail sectors. It’s a key brand for the Carbery Group, a world-renowned ingredient, and flavours company, with eight factories around the globe.
This successful international enterprise began however in 1968 from a rural premises in Ballineen in West Cork, and it’s here that the Carbery Group is still headquartered.
As Barry Fitzsimons, Business Development Director, Cheese, Carbery Dairy, explains, it derived from a joint venture between Express Dairies and four local dairy co-operatives in West Cork. “The idea was to create both a market for the local milk produced and to increase employment in the region at the time,” he says.
The group immediately began to export its dairy produce, initially to the UK, and later to Europe and further afield. From the start, its exports were in partnership with Ornua, an Irish agri co-operative which markets and sells dairy products on behalf of Irish dairy processors and Irish dairy farmers. “This is a relationship that has continued to this day. It’s an important and valued route to market for us, but it’s not the only one.”
The Carbery Group has grown considerably over the years. In 1992, it was purchased outright by the farmers in West Cork who were producing the milk. It’s now wholly owned by co-operatives in Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird.
“Since our founding, we’ve delivered a leading milk price, which reflects the quality of our milk, and our commitment to supporting farming families and the communities in which they live,” says Barry. “At the same time, Carbery has continued to add value for our shareholders by expanding the group’s footprint across the world and delivering flavours and nutritional solutions for food and nutrition categories.”
There have, of course, been challenges along the way. “These have been mainly around balancing the increasing supply of milk, the need to innovate, and our desire to deliver the added value needed for us to return a leading milk price. At the same time, we’ve sought out new markets for Carbery products across the globe,” explains Barry. “From partnership to direct selling, the route to market is a key focus on an ongoing and ever-changing basis for us.”
The group produces award-winning cheeses, including mature and vintage cheddar such as the Dubliner cheese, and specialised offerings such as reduced fat, inclusion, and functional cheeses. In 2020, it invested €78 million in its cheese-making facility at its headquarters at Ballineen, West Cork. As a result, it now produces grass-fed Mozzarella and other Pasta Filata-type offerings, including its Grilling Cheese, which follows the growth of Halloumi in the global market.
The Carbery Group has long been a member of Origin Green, Bord Bia (The Irish Food Board’s) sustainability programme and is among a handful of companies that have been recipients of the Origin Green Gold Member standard award. “Our sustainability strategy is an integral part of our core business strategy and is embedded across our entire group globally,” explains Barry. “We operate a circular economy in our Irish plant, as well as significant water use and waste reduction strategies globally. We also have a goal to be carbon neutral across all manufacturing sites by 2035.”
In addition, the group has established the Farm Zero C project which aims to spearhead efforts to create a climate neutral model for dairy farming. “Farm Zero C is co-led by Carbery and BiOrbic (Ireland’s Bioeconomy research centre) and is based on a working dairy farm, Shinagh Farm, co-owned by Carbery and the four West Cork co-ops.”
The project recently won the Science Foundation Ireland Zero Emissions challenge. Carbery and our partners believe that Farm Zero C can act as a pioneer within the dairy industry and produce results that can be replicated on Irish family farms across the country, helping Ireland and the industry to reach their climate commitments for the future.”
The group puts its success down to balancing many parts. “Carbery has an engaged farming community that provides us with the best of milk, a team of entrepreneurial and innovative people that turn that milk into a quality portfolio of products, and a customer and consumer base that understands and enjoys those products,” says Barry. “Our true point of difference however lies in understanding how these elements marry together to create a sustainable, long-term business which brings value back to our stakeholders and the community in which we live.”
In addition, the group is constantly looking for growth and future-proofing opportunities for the business. This year it is attending SIAL for the first time as part of that policy. “SIAL is an important opportunity to showcase our capabilities across our extensive and innovative cheese range. We’re really looking forward to renewing face-to-face relationships with our current and valued customers, as well as learning about new customers, trends, and markets, at the show.”