Seventh generation of Mosse family continues tradition of milling in Kilkenny

Small business: FutureProof – Kells Wholemeal supplies the bakery and retail trade with flour and bread mixes

Robert Mosse with his father Bill, two of the seven generations of the Mosse family involved in flour milling in Kilkenny.

Robert Mosse with his father Bill, two of the seven generations of the Mosse family involved in flour milling in Kilkenny.

 

Flour is definitely in the DNA of the Mosse family. They have been milling on the banks of the River Nore in Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny for seven generations and managing director Robert Mosse believes the business can survive for as long more if it continues to adapt to change.

The family business started as WH Mosse, but today it’s known as Kells Wholemeal. It is the only stoneground mill using traditional methods to produce on a commercial scale for the bakery and retail trade.

It employs 27 people to make its stoneground wholemeal flours and mixes which are sold here and in Britain and France.

The milling industry has gone through many changes, but Robert’s grandfather Patrick met the challenge of flour quotas head-on in the 1960s. While the quotas restricted the production of flour, they didn’t affect the production of bread mixes so this is what he started to do. The family soon became famous for Mosse’s brown bread mix.

WH Mosse later amalgamated with Davis’s of Enniscorthy and was sold to Boland’s Mills, but a new chapter in the milling story was about to unfold.

Robert’s father Bill, who trained as a milling engineer in the UK, took over a stoneground mill in Kells and Kells Wholemeal was born. They returned the business to Bennetsbridge, where cousin Nicholas Mosse was restoring the bigger sister mill across the river for his pottery enterprise. As the potter began to shape his future, Kells Wholemeal built up a strong business providing the baking trade with artisan wholemeal flours using traditional methods. The company also developed a range of cake and bread mixes and today it supplies more than 300 bakeries with these.

More than 10 years ago, Kells Wholemeal spotted a trend and started adding seeds to breads.

“It took off for us and today we have pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed, buckwheat, millet, poppy seeds, sesame seeds. There’s still an extremely strong demand for seeds in bread,” Robert says.

The company has also diversified into malted products, French flours, Polish flours, spelt flours and rye flours.

Their latest innovation is The Little Mill, a new brand of bread and cake mixes for consumers, which was launched last year. The sponge cake, scone, brown bread and brownie mixes are on sale in shops such as Avoca, and in the UK.

“We sell it through a distributor and it goes into farm shops, delis and garden centres all over the UK,” Robert says. “It’s going quite well and we are getting enquiries from places like Germany, Switzerland and Russia. The numbers are small but the potential is there.”

The enthusiasm for home-baking has also encouraged him to cater for this growing segment and he is now preparing to launch 1.5 kg packs of stoneground wholemeals for home bakers. He hopes it won’t be long before the Little Mill mixes are on the shelves of the leading supermarket chains.

“You have to keep being dynamic and coming out with new ideas,” he says. “What we are trying to do is to produce the same thing that we always did, but to put it into different packaging and sell it into new markets. It’s all about the core business, but finding new outlets and markets.”

He also says it’s important to have a good spread of customers. “We’re not dependent on one big account, or two big accounts. We have lots of different bits and pieces going on, left, right and centre, so if we lose a customer, it’s not the end of the world. I think that’s key to survival.”

The trend for gluten-free products is a concern for many breadmakers but Robert says it’s good to see people trying alternative cereals in their diets.

“But I wouldn’t say gluten-free is specifically the answer. There are lots of other cereals that we can eat, like spelt, barley, rye, rather than just focus on gluten-free [products]. A balance is sensible.”

He has high hopes for the export market. “We definitely have aspirations to go further. I think the work that Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland are doing to promote Ireland as a food country for export is amazing. The potential out there for export is just growing and growing,” he says.