The Dunnes Stores Simply Better range has a well-deserved reputation for award-winning food and drink. Behind the scenes it also champions small Irish producers, helping them to grow while doing what they do best.
This month, Kevin Aherne of the award-winning Sage restaurant in Cork chats to us about Sage’s new collaboration with the Dunnes Stores Simply Better Collection.
Sage has gone through many evolutions in its life and is now a much loved neighbourhood-style restaurant. During the pandemic it pivoted to an at-home offering but rather than the condiments and added extras many Irish businesses were focusing on at the time, the Sage team went for restaurant-quality dishes at home. It proved to be a great move.
“We started doing our own brand and then opened a food store,” Kevin says. “I was talking to one of my customers and they asked if we ever thought about supplying shops. The penny dropped and we started supplying stores locally. “We created a sister company to the restaurant and I entered one of our products - the Buttermilk Ranch - into the Irish Quality Food Awards. We won and that’s how the relationship with Simply Better started.”
That relationship stepped up a level in the very first Zoom meeting when the Simply Better team realised Kevin and Sage already had a whole range of products on the go. Very quickly the collaboration with Simply Better went from one product to twelve, kicking off with four meal pots and a range of dips, pickles and sauces arrives on shelves this month. It’s been a lot of work, Kevin admits, but it’s clear he loves working with the Simply Better team which prioritises quality and great Irish ingredients as much as he does.
“One of the biggest things that impressed me about Simply Better is that they’re adamant about what can and can’t go into the range. We don’t use any shelf life enhancers, there’s no preservatives - it’s a really natural product and I think that’s something Simply Better does really well. Their focus on natural products is a credit to them.”
As Kevin notes, Sage has always had a very good reputation and the focus for him and the team is on taking the skill of the restaurant kitchen into the production side of the business. “We’re still using the same quality ingredients, we’re not taking any shortcuts,” he explains. “Everything is still done by a chef. The recipes are quite complicated and use the best ingredients and techniques. Being a professional chef, the priority for me when creating a dish is the flavour always comes first.”
Their Simply Better range launched with four meal pots: Irish Angus Beef & Vegetable Braised Stew, Irish Lamb Tagine, Red Thai Chicken Curry and a Vegetable Dahl. All of the recipes have been developed by Kevin and all use Irish Bord Bia approved chicken, beef and lamb.
Next up are the dips, pickles and sauces which include Garlic Aioli, Cucumber & Ginger Pickle, Peanut & Chilli Rayu and – Kevin’s favourite – Buttermilk Ranch. “It’s a very natural product, we use Irish free range eggs and buttermilk from west Cork,” he says. “The ranch is very much a staple you’ll keep in your fridge or cupboard all the time. It’s not a one-off buy.”
The collaboration between Simply Better and Sage is one that brings restaurant quality food to consumers all over Ireland. Already showing signs of success – Kevin was delighted to see some of the meals in shopping baskets in his local Dunnes Stores – it looks set to grow further.
“I’ve enjoyed working with the Simply Better team and am looking forward to seeing where the relationship can go,” Kevin says. “The more lines we can get in there the more we can support Irish products too. It’s very exciting.”
Brought to you in partnership with Dunnes Stores Simply Better