Jam-maker spreads the good news with expansion plans
Future Proof: Folláin Jams:The depths of a recession might seem like an unusual time to expand, but jam manufacturer Folláin is investing €1.7 million in a new plant that will open next year.
Over the past 30 years the artisan jam-maker has grown from a cottage industry into a busy enterprise employing 15 people in the west Cork Gaeltacht of Cúil Aodha.
Up to now, its pace of growth has been measured, but next year’s move will change this. New products, with high volume sales potential, are being added to the line-up and turnover is expected to double to €8 million within three years.
Folláin was started in the early 1980s by Mairín Uí Lionaird and Eithne Uí Shiadhal. Its initial product was a grapefruit marmalade made from an Uí Shiadhal family recipe handed down over generations.
What made it special was its fruit content. At that time, most jam producers were using fruit pulp in their products; Folláin used the whole fruit to produce a better flavour. The main market for its products back then was the small but growing band of consumers with a taste for premium preserves.
Three decades later, the luxury jams market has become very crowded while at the opposite end of the scale discount retailers are selling jams at knockdown prices. Both have made life difficult for Folláin, which has also faced hikes in sugar prices and major difficulty sourcing Irish-grown fruit during the Celtic Tiger era.
“It has never been easy but the whole environment has certainly become more challenging in recent years,” says Mairín Uí Lionaird. “In addition to increased competition and the constant battle to get listings, especially with new products with the big retailers, there has also been the impact of external factors.
“In the last few years we lost two key suppliers when the Irish Glass Bottle Company and Irish Sugar closed. We have to import our sugar now and it went up by 70 per cent last year – that’s almost unbearable for a small business. We coped by tweaking our recipes to reduce the sugar content.”
Folláin took its first major step towards ramping up volumes in 1993 with a move to new premises. This also provided the opportunity to strengthen its base by diversifying into savoury products such as chutneys, relishes and salsas. It also introduced automation to remove some of the more labour-intensive aspects of the production process.
This plant is now too small, hence next year’s move to a purpose-built facility nearby, which will allow for the construction of a second production line, the introduction of more sophisticated equipment, and the launch of a new savoury sauces and condiments range – the main growth potential for the future.
Getting the second production line not only adds capacity but will also greatly improve efficiency and cost effectiveness. The bulk of the investment, which runs to about €1.7 million between premises and new equipment, will be self-financed.
Folláin sells mainly through supermarkets in Ireland with some exports to France, the US and Britain. Red jams are its biggest sellers, while sales of marmalade are also growing.
Food service represents about 20 per cent of its business and it is also involved in contract manufacturing. The company has recently rebranded its range to give its products a more distinctive look . In addition to its mainstream range, Folláin makes niche products for the gift market and seasonal products such as cranberry sauce and sweet mincemeat.
“Basically if it can go in a glass jar we will consider it,” Uí Lionaird says. “What has always separated us from our competitors is taste. We’ve always focused on the products – probably too much so at times.
“But, over the last 20 years, we have won a string of good food awards both here and overseas, and that has been very satisfying. We have grown slowly and have not overstretched, which is probably one of the main reasons we are still here.”
In 2010, the company hired business development manager Laura Hewson, which Uí Lionaird says has helped propel the company forward.
“Laura is a good strategist and she knows the market and talks its language, which we don’t. We’re overly production-led and Laura is a good counter-balance. She sees strengths in the business, such as our west Cork provenance, that we don’t always see because we’re too close and she is making the most of them.”