Donegal Rapeseed Oil – A history.
In 2008, Austin Duignan hatched a plan to grow Rapeseed commercially in Donegal, as a result of soil tests he had been undertaking and his personal passion for substituting imported olive oils from Italy with Rapeseed Oil grown in Ireland. Austin read an article in the Irish Farmers Journal, by Matt Dempsey about the need for a good press and quality rapeseed in the domestic market. He researched the market and knew that the particular soil indiginous to the local area would favour the crop, but was unaware how tasty the end product could be. After a number of successful tests in the Lagan and Finn Valleys, Austin determined that the light and delicate taste was a result of 1) the “Soil Type 20” found in this defined area which stretched along the Finn and Foyle basins, on both sides of the border, within 20 miles of the river bed and 2) the cooler climate in which our crops are grown.
This also resulted in reduced imports of olive oil, but more importantly lead to an increase in the use of healthier cooking oils, creating a new industry in Ireland. Not only has Donegal Rapeseed Oil grown, but a dozen other Rapeseed Oil companies have been established in the past few years, helping ensure a healthier diet for shoppers nationwide. The Taste of Donegal has become a firm favourite with many celebrity Chefs who appreciate its unique light and delicate taste. The Irish Examiner recently tasted all the oils and ranked Donegal rapeseed Oil as Number One. Neven Maguire in MacNean House says that he only uses Donegal Rapeseed Oil.
Once he proved the success of the crop, Austin had to convince farmers in the area to grow it, which he did slowly and as he went he got farmers on both sides of the river basin and border, to test Rapeseed. Then he set about raising funding for the fledgling business which was starting up. At this point, one of the farmers, Stephen Allen offered to help by providing a centrally located place in Castlederg to press the seed and bottle the oil. To this day farmers bring their crop to the Castlederg plant.
Support came from farmers and businesses on both sides of the river and Invest NI offered help to source and purchase a state of the art press which Stephen housed and and then a team was trained to manage the process to a very high standard. Austin set up headquarters in Raphoe, where he gathered a small team to manage the office, the marketing and the sales, as well as to oversee the production and manage the logistics. The company has consistently achieved BRC standard and has acheived Great Taste awards for quality and flavour.
Introducing new products to our range
In 2015, the two teams have grown along with the production in the fields, the sales in the shops and the popularity in the kitchens. The marketing budget has always been small, so the rise in use has been down to the popularity of the Taste of Donegal – the secret is truly in the soil. Chefs in homes, hotels and restaurants are loving the new flavoured oils and the gold oils that have been added in recent years. Word of mouth is making this a product that will create markets wherever there are good cooks. From Donegal to Tyrone, Dublin to Wexford Galway to Cork, kitchens and menus are fast adding Donegal Rapeseed Oils to their offering.
The Next Chapter
The next chapter for Donegal Rapeseed Oil is to add more unique flavours for the home market and spread the word of mouth across the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean, to kitchens across the world. The priority is to deliver consistent quality and consumer support, the aim is to spread the word via word of mouth, social media and our new website. The website is fast collating recipes from chefs to allow visitors find a dish for their ingredients.
As Austin and Stephen gear up for the ever increasing demand, the teams of staff on both sides of the border increase in number and expertise, in an area where such jobs are sorely needed. Donegal Rapeseed Oil is showing how a small initiative in the north west corner of Ireland can become a big nationwide success, if the quality of the product matches the depth of passion of the entrepreneurs involved.