Welcome back to Hashtag Love Local (#Love Local), the initiative that highlights the importance of the economic pillar of sustainability and the benefits of shopping locally. Here at The Sustainability Strategy, we are standing behind and supporting six of our favourite Irish businesses. Today, we sit down for an interview with Mary-Thea from Kerry Kefir, the business which aims to produce the very best and most natural form of milk kefir.
- How long has your business been in operation?
Kerry Kefir officially started trading at it’s first market in Castleisland, Co. Kerry on the 30th November 2018. I continued to trade directly to customers until February 2020, when I started selling my product to local supermarkets.
- What inspired you to set up your business?
In my mid 20’s, I was told I had “just IBS” by a medical consultant, as an answer to my digestion issues I’d suffered from for years. I was sent on my way with a prescription for tablets to take before every meal for the rest of my life. I had to take matters in to my own hands. I spent years looking for ways to help my symptoms through diet. In my early 30’s, I came across a nutritionist in Dublin advocating milk kefir, so I decided to buy some kefir grains from her and started making it myself. Within a week, I couldn’t believe the improvement in my IBS symptoms (constipation/diarrhea, poor digestion). I started telling EVERYBODY! I’d be on a night out asking people if they had heard of kefir! 90% of people hadn’t heard of it. And what’s more, I listened to so many people talking about their issues with their digestion/gut health.
At the time I was in my second career change, working for a large business consulting company in Dublin. For 3 years I had been working on various projects and I felt ready to start my own project.
My passion for kefir was clear, the gap in the market for a home-made traditional kefir was clear, and my desire to run my own business and the challenges that would pose was clear. After 14 years living in Dublin, I moved home to Castleisland in October 2018 to start what would become Kerry Kefir, and I returned to my first career in Optometry to work on a part time basis.
- How did you come up with the name of your business?
Being from Kerry, and setting up the business in Kerry, it seemed like a good fit. Also, Kerry has a good reputation for its fresh produce with its rolling green hills and plentiful rain. There are many successful food products with its name sake (like Kerrygold butter)
- What was your mission at the outset?
My mission with Kerry Kefir from the outset was, and still is, to produce only the very best, most natural form of milk kefir. By using live kefir grains, we provide a powerfully beneficial home-made kefir as it was traditionally made. You will not find us using lab manufactured cultures!
This method of making kefir may take longer to make, and it’s a very manual hands-on process, but it provides the most natural, highest quality product possible.
- What type of product do you sell/ produce?
Kerry Kefir is a traditional home-made milk kefir using live kefir grains and locally sourced cow’s milk. Kefir is a natural, fermented, live probiotic beverage. Kefir originated in the Caucasus mountains between Georgia and Russia over 2000 years ago!
It has a tangy taste and is slightly carbonated- owing to the many live beneficial bacteria and yeast. It is a refreshing, nutritious beverage that packs a powerful punch.
Kerry Kefir is the most natural form of kefir; it embodies all of the health promoting time-tested benefits of traditional kefir.
- To what do you attribute your success?
Word of mouth! You can’t beat it! And the quality of my product! Commercially made milk kefirs use lab-made powdered cultures to make their kefir. Mine is made the traditional way with live kefir grains- there is no comparison.
The benefits people experience from drinking Kerry Kefir makes them want to tell other people about the positive impact it’s made on their digestive health.
- What is unique about your business?
As far as I know, I am the only business producing and selling milk kefir made using live kefir grains in Ireland. I’m also the only business selling milk kefir in glass bottles in Ireland.
- How does your business help the customer/community?
The milk I use to make Kerry Kefir is from a local milk company. They obtain their milk supply directly from farmers within a 10 mile radius of their facility. I love that! It’s been operating for 100 years. And the quality of the milk is excellent.
Currently, I am the only person employed in the business, but I do hope that will change as my business grows and expands. I’d love to be able to employ local people to join me in growing Kerry Kefir.
- What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far from setting up your business?
There are so many!
The first one is to have a support network. You need people around you who believe in you and who you can bounce ideas off. It would be extremely difficult to try do it all on your own all of the time. There are so many support networks out there from your Local Enterprise Office to participation programmes like ACORNS. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The other main lesson is to ensure you are looking after yourself every day. If you want to run a business, you have to be able to make decisions every day. If your tank is empty, those decisions seem a lot harder to make.
- Has your business set any sustainability polices, if so, would you care to share them?
I haven’t written any policies as such, but I am absolutely conscious about sustainability and building a sustainable business. Sarah and The Sustainability Strategy has really opened my eyes to the different layers of sustainability, and I will continue to learn as I grow my business.
- Where can the reader find more out about your business, (website & social links)
I make lots of videos about the benefits of kefir, and how certain digestive issues can be aided by the use of kefir. I also make video ad’s just for fun, to try promote my brand.
I make weekly vlogs showing the process of making kefir, and showing my Golden Retriever doggies- Ben (6) and Obie (10 months)
These can be found on:
- Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
Small businesses are the backbone of society- from cafes, to restaurants to small family owned shops. Word of mouth really goes a long way- if you recommend somewhere to eat to a friend, chances are they will opt to eat there when visiting the area.
There is a large cohort of people who do not use social media all that often/at all, so telling your mom or your colleague at work about a local business that you follow can make a difference to that business in the real world.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog. Here at The Sustainability Strategy, we aim to build a community that openly discusses their environmental views. If you enjoyed the content and would like to get involved in the Sustainable growth conversation, I would love to hear from you. You can find me on Pinterest, and Instagram.