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Eilis and Sarah Gough say honey remains the bedrock of the Mileeven brand

Two dry seasons in ’86 and ’87 left them with a glut of honey that they began selling to local shops

Tell ’em about the honey It’s more than three decades since amateur beekeepers Joe and Eilis Gough began turning their hobby into a business. Now Eilis and daughter Sarah sell their Mileeven honey and preserves to markets as far apart as the UK and Hong Kong. MILEEVAN Ireland’s famously damp climate – ideal for growing grass – has helped shape its food industry, with beef and dairy both major exports. But it was an unusually dry couple of summers three decades ago that prompted the Gough family to turn their honey-making hobby into a business. Joe and Eilis Gough already kept bees at the family’s home in Piltown, Co. Kilkenny, as a “natural addition” to Joe’s beloved garden. But two dry seasons in 1986 and 1987 left them with a glut of honey that they began selling in local shops. By 1988, the couple had decided it was time to take 20

honey more seriously, and they set about developing a brand, Mileeven, that 30 years on finds its way into high-end stores all round the world. With most Irish summers providing a honey-making season as short as six weeks, local bees were never going to provide the volume for a significant business. The answer was to start importing speciality honeys from other nations too, like acacia from Hungary, and Spanish orange blossom. The Goughs also approached lrish Distillers, asking to produce honeys blended with its whiskey and Irish Mist liqueur, and this provided the foundations of a range that would take Mileeven into


both speciality retail and the gifting market. In 1997, the purchase of a small preserves business helped Mileeven extend its reach beyond honey -

although bees still provide the bedrock of the business. And now, with daughter Sarah heading marketing operations and running the business alongside Eilis,

there is also a separate “Sarah’s” range too, with its own distinct branding, that combines honey with flavours like ginger, lemon, sour cherries and blueberries. Mileeven started exporting in the early 1990s while at home, after a decade selling mainly to independents, it picked up its first business with the multiples. But Sarah Gough says it is careful to avoid clashes between the two. “We have products that are very much aimed at supermarkets,” she says, “but also a whole range for independents, hampers and gifting. So smaller retailers won’t see a honey for sale in Tesco at £4.50 that’s £5 in their own shop.”


Profile for Guild of Fine Food

FFD Food & Drink from Ireland 2019  

FFD Food & Drink from Ireland 2019