Producer Spotlight: Conor Sweeny from Dae Ice Cream

Dae, formerly known as Leamhain, is an artisanal ice cream brand that uses some of the best and most ethical ingredients to make their delicious products. And the best part? It’s plant-based, gluten- and nut-free!

We had a chat with the founder of Dae, Conor Sweeny, about his journey starting the brand.

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Have you always had a great love of food?

I taught myself to cook at 17 when I went vegetarian and it opened a whole new world to me. I knew as I left school that year, becoming a chef was what I wanted to do.

Can you tell me about your own background in the food industry?

I began in a small cafe called Thyme out in Dalkey way back in 2016. I went on to complete a bachelors degree from DIT now TUD in culinary arts. This course taught me the basics of French cooking and gave me the skills to move on to a larger restaurant. I started working in Ireland’s oldest vegetarian restaurant, Cornucopia. I spent four years here starting from cleaning the bathrooms up to the main kitchen.

What inspired you to set up your business? Did you notice a gap in the market?

Haha well I didn’t plan on starting Dae. During the first lockdown, I was watching Tiger King eating a tub of plant based ice cream. It was bad. Very bad. I thought to myself that I could do better. So it began.

How did you set up the business and how has it been growing over time?

I spent the whole first year of lockdown in R&D mode, making ice cream everyday until I created a recipe I was really proud of. We launched our plant based, free from ice cream sammie in April 2021.

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What inspired the rebranding from Leamhain to Dae?

We were very fortunate to take part in a business accelerator course called Food Works run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland & Teagasc. Our goal is to export into the UK, so Bord Bia politely pulled me aside after the first session and said we are doing a rebrand. They saw the massive potential we have and wanted to give us the best chance of success in international markets! We spent 11 months defining exactly what Leamhain meant to us and how we could bring that to life. After many names and designs, Dae was born.

Where do you source the ingredients used to make your product(s)?

We try to use the best ingredients we can find. We use Achill Island sea salt, Papua New Guinea vanilla beans and Belgium chocolate callets.

Can you tell me about some of the benefits associated with your product(s)?

I’ll be honest, besides the fact that we are completely plant based, gluten & nut free which makes a delicious ice cream suitable for everyone, there are zero health benefits. We have tried to recreate the most delicious dairy ice cream. It’s a premium fat base which creates a long lasting flavor and induces that big happy smile upon first taste. It’s most definitely not healthy but is ice cream supposed to be? Treat yourself. Life is too short for a low cal wanna-be ice cream.

How important has social media been for you in spreading the word?

Massive. Social media is vital to our success. We deploy a strategy called main characterization. What does this entail you ask? Well, the viewer sees everything. A complete BTS of the Dae operation. The good and the bad, the ups and downs. We want to create a binge-worthy style plot which is more than just ice cream pictures. It’s storylines followers are interested in.

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How do you come up with the flavors for the ice cream?

We take inspiration from everywhere. Our lives are surrounded by the food industry. We find inspiration from everything from bakeries to perfume brands.

What makes your product unique?

We are Ireland’s first and only plant based, free of ice cream product available in both the convenience and impulse freezers. We are the first Irish company to take on the big 2 players in Irish ice cream in over 40 years.

Where can people get your product (shops, restaurants?)

We are available nationwide in Supervalu, all good independents and have recently just launched into Spar stores which will slowly pick up numbers. Check out our website for full breakdown.

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What, do you think, are some of the most interesting dishes that have been created with your product? Do you have any favourites?

SO MANY!! I’ll just rattle off a list here and see what people think.

1: Blanco Nino blue corn torilla chip ice cream, torilla crumb biscuit chunks & foraged blackberry jam swirl

2: Thyme ice cream, Folláin Fig jam swirl, Caramelised gluten free puff pastry chunks 3: Brioche donut ice cream, Vanilla glazed donut chunks, Strawberry Jam Swirl 4: Salted caramel ice cream, Sticky toffee pudding chunks, Digestive crumb & Butterscotch caramel

5: Brown sugar banana ice cream, Cinnamon choice chip banana bread, Caramel swirl, Salted fudge ripple.

Are there any other small Irish food producers you admire?

Too many to list. The people who are in the Food sector are truly incredible. Becca – Kale and Coco, Dave – Hotchip, Gráinne – Grá chocolates, Dave – Pinecone Coffee Aisling – Thanks Plants, I could go on forever.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced since going into business?

Everyday brings a new challenge. Ingredients constantly rising, cash flow, constant R&D to stay on trend & create the best product possible.

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What do you feel is your biggest achievement to date with this business?

The products being nationwide are great and all but truly the biggest achievement to date has been creating an environment where employees come first. A place where they feel safe, appreciated and know they are heard. We have an incredible team and all this wouldn’t be possible without them. Shoutout Keith, Eoghan, Kate, Cian, Louise. Gra more!

Could you ever have imagined doing anything else with your life?

I originally wanted to be in the music industry but after a short stint in Bimm I decided I preferred cooking more. Now cooking is my identity. I relax by cooking. I love everything about it.

What does the future hold for your business?

Dae will be the biggest producer of plant based ice cream in Ireland, available in every corner store and across the UK.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo