Initiative of Portrush artisan food innovator spreads to national network

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
MULTI-AWARD winner Irish Black Butter, which is based in Portrush, has been invited to join one of the leading small business networks in the UK.

By Sam Butler

Led by entrepreneur Alastair Bell, the most successful sole trader in the local food industry, it has joined Small Business Sunday #SBS on social media, created by Theo Paphitis in October 2010. SBS is the UK’s biggest network of small businesses. Alastair applied to join the network and was delighted to receive an invitation.

The invitation came as Alastair was preparing to join a trade mission to the US being organised by the Department of Business and Trade (DBT) in London. A previous DBT event resulted in Irish Black Butter being listed by a leading outlet, leading to sales in Texas.

Alastair Bell, of Irish Black Butter in Portrush, has been invited to join a major UK business network.Alastair Bell, of Irish Black Butter in Portrush, has been invited to join a major UK business network.
Alastair Bell, of Irish Black Butter in Portrush, has been invited to join a major UK business network.

He intends to sample the spread to shoppers in the stores he now supplies in the state. In addition to Texas, Irish Black Butter is readily available in Boston and New York.

Commenting on the invitation from Theo Paphitis, best known for appearing on BBC’s popular Dragons’ Den and chairman of major UK businesses, Alastair says: “Being invited to join SBS is a marvellous way to start 2024 because it provides access to business contacts across Britain, one of my most important and successful markets. It’s also a market I am especially keen to grow in the year ahead.”

SBS is also partnered with industry leader Google “to inspire businesses and entrepreneurs” like Alastair, the winner of a host of national awards for Irish Black Butter, a unique sweet/savoury spread that includes Armagh Bramley apple flavours among its ingredients.

Alastair continues: “The growth of my small business is dependent upon building networks in markets like Britain and the US. It’s easily the best way possible to increase awareness of the company and its products, especially Irish Black Butter. It’s a great way to exchange information, contacts and tips with other smaller companies, especially sole traders. Being a sole trader can be lonely and very challenging.

“It’s also a very cost-effective way to harness the latest digital technology and social media networks for business growth. Smaller companies tend not to have the resources for conventional marketing and publicity techniques,” he adds.

#SBS Small Business Sunday is a free small business community with almost 4,000 winners, all working together to thrive in this important UK sector, through the support of headline partner Google, and other #SBS partners such as NatWest, DHL, HP, Spring Fair, FreeAgent, iLaw, Ryman, Robert Dyas, the UK Export Academy and SumUp.

#SBS is all about providing small business owners with a platform to develop and upskill themselves. The networking opportunities include a major event in Birmingham next month which will feature almost 1,000 member companies, including Irish Black Butter.

Theo adds: “I admire people who have passion and energy. If you cannot bore your friends to death about your own small business then something is seriously wrong. I was struck by the number of business owners on Twitter who wanted to tell me about their new products and services.

“Small Business Sunday was born so that people have a specific time slot to tweet and can pitch their ‘sell’ directly to me. In 2022 I also opened up #SBS to businesses on Instagram and have been blown away by the depth and quality of the entrants.”

Alastair Bell is also a veteran a Dragons’ Den programme in which he won acclaim from the participants and benefited significantly from the television profile of the unique spread that he launched in 2017. He came up with the idea to harness the potential of Armagh Bramley apples, which have EU protected status, and approached leading chef Paul Clarke, who also runs En-Place Foods in Cookstown, a multi-award-winning company producing a range of culinary products for chefs, for advice and guidance on developing the recipe.

In addition to Bramley apples, Irish Black Butter includes treacle, cider, a touch of brandy and spices for a cross between sweet and savoury.

He subsequently branded the spread as “A New Taste of Ireland” and has been successful in developing sales for the original product in GB and Ireland.

The spread has also attracted interest from retailers in the US and Germany. The product has won a host of major awards, including UK Great Taste and Blas na hEireann awards. The spread gained an impressive three-star rating in Great Taste.

As well as the original black butter, he has launched an Irish Black Butter Peanut Spread and has also worked with other local producers in the development of Irish Black Butter Ice Cream and Irish Black Butter fudge.