Q&A Inside Track

Benoit Lorge, chocolatier

Benoit Lorge at his factory in Co Kerry.  Photograph: Andrew Downes

Benoit Lorge at his factory in Co Kerry. Photograph: Andrew Downes

 

What sets your business apart?
I took over a rural shop about 10kms from Kenmare; it used to be a post office in a parish 17km long with 150 people. We supply some chocolate shops around the country and we have workshops as well: people come and spend some time making chocolate.


What piece of advice would you give to someone starting a food business?
Quality, not to compromise on quality. If someone was to start now it would be very difficult to fight with a big company, so quality is what makes a winner, I would say. And being small. We haven’t been trying to get into mass production; we have tried to be small and that has helped our success at the moment.


What’s the biggest mistake you have made in business?
Just working too hard and not spending enough time with my family. It’s a mistake because you are trying to make sure the business is going just right and you can forget you have a life. I am in business for nine years and it’s good and I love it but you have to live as well.


What has been your major success to date?
We won a Blas na hÉireann (National Irish Food Award) and I am going to be a food ambassador for Ireland [at an event] in Norway next September.

It is a great compliment for a French man to be an Irish ambassador. Fáilte Ireland chose me to be one of seven; I didn’t ask why.


Whom do you admire in business and why?
I would say Siobhán Ní Ghairbhith at St Tola Cheese; that would be one of the other businesses that I have a big respect for, [for] not compromising on quality. They are a small company and they manage to supply the best restaurants in the country.

I know they are working very hard. They never compromised on quality no matter what has happened over the last few years.


In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs?
I have been lucky, I have never had to ask for money from a bank; I don’t like to owe money. I would have to say fair play to the Enterprise Board which is very good to the artisans – [but banks have] cold feet. I know a lot of people find it difficult to start because the banks are not lending.


What could the Government do to make life easier for SMEs?
I suppose tax is a problem: 23 per cent [VAT] on chocolate is very difficult for the artisan. And of course, more help with employment. Artisans would like to get extra staff like big companies can do but it’s very difficult.

There should be no tax on new employees for the first year for a small business of less than 10 [staff].


What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been to get a name in a secluded area. I am very happy with that challenge to have a business working in an area that I wanted which is the country.


How do you see the short- term future for your
business?
To keep going on providing quality and being faithful to our customers; maybe to try and expand the produce into the UK a bit.


What is your business worth and would you sell it?
Between €250,000 and €300,000 and I wouldn’t sell it because I love it and I wouldn’t know what I would do. I love the area too – [but] if someone put in an offer of half a million I would reconsider!

In conversation with Mark Hilliard