Meet Leona Kane: The Founder Keeping Broighter Gold A Cut Above The Rest

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Over the last seven years, Broighter Gold has become a household name. Stocked in the major supermarkets and restaurants across Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, England and Scotland, it’s hard to believe all of the produce comes from one single farm and press located in Limavady. Behind Broighter Gold lies a deceptively small but undeniably mighty team.

The Style Edit met with Broighter Gold founder, Leona Kane to get the lowdown on where it all began, dealing with the harsh realities of copycats and how they approached their biggest stockists.

How Broighter Gold got started…

We were renovating our house and I was pregnant with my son, Jacob. We’d just had our range oven installed and we decided to celebrate by cooking two steaks for dinner. We couldn’t wait because we’d lived off microwaved and slow cooker meals for seven months.

Richard, my husband, was pressing for biodiesel on the farm at the time – we were the first legal biodiesel producers in Northern Ireland. We had the press all bought to make diesel so literally, we were going to go into diesel production. We were paying 37p duty and £2500 for insurance and then the environment agency came down and were going to charge us another £3500 levy fee in case we made a chemical reaction on site… We thought “no way, we’re not paying that”. It was all going great but we just pulled the pin. 

Because of that, the press was lying down there and when we had no olive oil down in the kitchen that night, Richard brought me some of the rapeseed oil that he hadn’t processed through to make the diesel – we were different in that we were taking our actual seeds and pressing them and making it in to diesel whereas nowadays people take the chip pan fat to do it which is why the back of your car smells like a barbecue.

I used the rapeseed oil to cook the steaks and the smell was completely different – in a good way. It didn’t burn and the steaks cooked so evenly. They were the best steaks I’d ever cooked in my life. That night we joked and called it ‘our Broighter Gold’. But we had Jacob who was in and out of hospital so we (literally) put it on the back burner although I started to research the health benefits of rapeseed oil and I couldn’t believe the difference compared to olive oil.

On the health benefits of rapeseed oil that research revealed…

There’s ten times more Omega 3 in rapeseed oil compared to olive oil and half the amount of saturated fat. There’s also Vitamin D and E that you don’t get in olive oil. The other thing is it cooks a higher temperature so it cooks to 220℃ whereas olive oil only cooks to 180℃. Those were the big benefits but it was taste as well. 

Rapeseed oil is different in that you can fry with it, roast, bake, drizzle, pour or make marinades with it. We find chefs in the kitchens are changing to using our rapeseed oil because it’s easy for them. They can use one oil for everything.

“There’s ten times more Omega 3 in rapeseed oil compared to olive oil and half the amount of saturated fat.”

On how the early days looked for the business…

It took a while to get set up. We actually took our seed from our farm and we used a seed merchant over in England. He started to press our seed for us and then send us back the bottles so we had to label them ourselves. They were all hand labelled at our kitchen counter. I was very lucky. My mum, my granny and everybody helped. We kept that going until I could see whether it was going to be a viable business or not. 

Whenever we started the biodiesel, we’d spent a lot of money getting it set up and I was just scared. You know you’re coming into a farm, you’ve basically gutted their whole family house that’s been six generations and now you’re going to start up a business that might not work. So I put everything into it and it ended up that it did work after six months.

Initially we though one bottle size was all we needed to do. We soon realised that everyone wanted something different which meant doing five litre jars for restaurants and then the 250 millilitre bottles plus different infusions. It was all such a learning curve for me.

The history behind Broighter Gold…

It was the largest La Tene find in Ireland in 1896. It consisted of a gold boat, a torc, a bowl, a necklace and a few other pieces and was discover by ploughmen, Thomas Nicholl and James Morrow, whose plough got caught on the torc – now part of our logo. Whenever you look at our gold logo it’s a torc as well as the drop of oil. The two men were farming on the land we still farm today. The man who owned the fields at the time sold the gold to an auctioneer in Derry who then sold it to another auction house in England. Somewhere along the way, the Irish government then heard about this gold being found in Limavady. They felt since it had been found in Ireland, they should have it. Under a high court ruling it was determined that the gold was seen as a treasure trove as opposed to a gift to the Gods. The Broighter Hoard now resides in the Dublin museum.

It was all quite apt because at the time we had spoken to the council about what we were doing with Broighter Gold. I was worried about trademarking because we were using the name but the gold discovered in 1896 is actually known as the Broighter Hoard not the Broighter Gold. The council thought we should try and get the gold back to Limavady. A year later, after we had launched, it did come back. It all tied in really well for us in relation to marketing. We had a lot of TV crews here and the BBC. It was great publicity for us. 

“We haven’t hidden anything we’re doing whereas there’s a lot of producers that aren’t being completely honest with their consumers.”

On what sets Broighter Gold apart within the food industry…

We’ve always been quite open about what we’re doing. We haven’t hidden anything whereas there’s a lot of producers that aren’t being completely honest with their consumers. We’re sustainable in what we’re doing, in the way that we’re growing and producing our oil. We’re not using as many nitrates or pesticides. 

The waste from making the oil is also by-product. It’s high in protein and omega 3, 6 and 9 meaning it’s good for animal feed. We sell it on to a mill so there’s no waste at all. Even the straw that comes off the fields goes for bedding for cattle. Oil seed is a very good crop to grow because once you grow it, it provides plenty of nutrients into the ground which is really good for wheat or barley afterwards.

Broighter Gold isn’t just for now, it’s for our next generation. We’re not just doing this as a whim, trying to make money. We’re actually hoping that one of the kids will want to step into it as well.

“Broighter Gold isn’t just for now, it’s for our next generation.”

On how they test their products…

We use chefs a lot and Belfast Cookery School. I’m also very friendly with Paula McIntyre. It’s funny because people always say most of the friends you have, you’ve known for years but most of the friends I have through food, they’re the people I really connect with. We would also get a group of foodies that come into Belfast Cookery School and we put out samples for them. It’s all through taste testing and sending out samples to people who know what they’re talking about it.

The hickory one that we just brought out came through a chef who wanted a charcoal oil which basically means you would heat up charcoal really, really hot and throw it into the oil to give that charcoal flavour. You can imagine an environmental officer finding that out. They would have heart attack so we compromised and we did a hickory smoked oil for him and it’s been very popular, we just won a gold award for it at Blas nah Éireann.

On the growth of Northern Ireland’s women in business…

When I first started, there wasn’t really anyone you could speak to (on the north coast) so I had to keep going to Belfast to speak to producers up there or some of the better butchers just to ask for help. Now, we have a collaboration network called The Causeway Coast and Glens’ Collaboration Network. I’m chairwoman of the network but there’s 11 of us who came together and set it up. We’re going to start helping other producers, bringing on other hospitality people and chefs. It will be good because the whole area will soon be talking about Taste Causeway so the council think it’s a great idea and so does the tourist board.

Dealing with the copycats who come to play…

You just rise above it and do better. You keep on selling, keep telling the truth and do what you do. It happens all the time. You have to look at it as imitation being a form of flattery – or so they keep saying even though it makes your really angry. You just have to keep going and being innovative and different.

“You just have to keep going and being innovative and different.”

Niamh Crawford-Walker

Niamh is a full time fashion and features writer at The Style Edit. Her work has previously appeared in IMAGE magazine, and Emirates Woman.

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