Fledgling food companies try to find recipe for success


BEST NEWCOMER AWARD:THE BEST Newcomer Category of the SuperValu Irish Food Producers Award is designed to recognise suppliers in their first two years of operation, which have a “compelling product offering”.

Investment banker turned baker, Denise O’Callaghan, had an idea for a business plan when her father was diagnosed as a coeliac.

Faced with a dramatic change to his diet, Denise realised that there was a lack of high quality, homemade gluten-free products in the market.

Denise left banking and moved back to her native Cork where she set up Delicious, a company specialising in producing gluten-free artisan bakery products. The business operates from a small unit owned by Cork County Council, which it leases on a subsidised rent basis. The company has four employees, including a full-time confectioner and van driver who supplies local retailers.

Delicious is also involved in a van pooling scheme which supplies retailers in Dublin and further afield, thereby saving on transport costs. Delicious has seen sales increase on a 50 per cent basis month on month in the last year. According to Denise O’Callaghan the gluten-free market is expanding. Some 5 per cent of the Irish population is coeliac, while more and more people are being diagnosed with the disease.

Because the condition can only be controlled through diet, rather than medication, it is a “non-cyclical market”, she says. A demand from non-coeliacs for gluten-free products also looks set to boost sales. Delicious is developing products for other allergy sufferers, and is introducing a range of wheat, yeast and dairy free products.

A new type of brown bread that came onto the market last year has also been shortlisted in the Best Newcomer Category. “Ella’s Homemade Brown Bread” is the brainchild of Wexford man Padge Quirke, who came up with the business idea after visiting his sister who had just cooked a batch of homemade soda bread.

“My sister told me that it was our mother’s recipe, and offered to show me how to make it,” he explains. After a couple of lessons, Padge began to bake the bread himself, and started selling the product door-to-door.

“The door to door experience was an excellent way to perfect the product, and more importantly showed me that there was a market for good quality, home-made brown bread.” Padge, who had recently lost his job due to the recession, decided to sell his car, and bought an oven with half the proceeds.

He set about growing his business by approaching the manager in his local Pettitt’s supermarket. Ten months on, he is now producing 2,500 loaves per weeks and supplying five Pettitt’s stores in Wexford town, Enniscorthy, Gorey and Arklow, which represents 90 per cent of his business. While his main product is the traditional “golden brown” brand, Quirke has recently introduced a new brand aimed at diabetics, and a sultana bread.

Padge’s wife, as well as a part-time employee, work with him in the business. He has also recently hired an extra employee to help with deliveries.

Blue Haven Food Company is a Kinsale-based food company which was formed last year as a spin-off from the well-known hotel and cafe company The Blue Haven Collection. The company, which employs 10 people, produces a range of award-winning home-made food products including chowders, pates, preserves and dressings.

Although the business currently operates from the kitchen of its sister company, the Blue Haven Hotel, where it produces its products at night, it is scheduled to move to its own premises in Kinsale within the next three weeks.

Managed by Loretto Kiernan, the company supplies a range of retailers in the Cork area and shops in Dublin, including Fallon Byrne and Mortons.