Berna Williams is no stranger to the food business, having started her career catering for private parties in the 1980s. She subsequently opened a cafe and then a deli which she ran with her husband, David, for 20 years. In 2019, the couple took a step back from the 24/7 demands of food retailing, but rather than leaving the kitchen completely behind, they sold their deli and took their love of food in a new direction. The result is Berna's Dressings, an artisan producer of fresh salad dressings.
“Berna’s is the only producer of fresh, premium handmade dressings on the market,” Berna Williams says. “We use fresh basil leaves, red chillies and garlic which are chopped before being blended into our chosen oils. Our dressings are a quick and easy way to add vibrant flavour to your meals.”
Dressings for salads, wraps and sandwiches had been a staple of the couple’s deli business for years and they knew there were discerning foodies willing to pay for a fresh alternative to mass-produced dressings, often made with dried ingredients. They stepped up to fill the niche and there are currently four dressings, which also double as marinades, in the company’s range. The products are available in selected SuperValu stores, specialist food shops and delis, and are aimed at the upper end of the market.
“All of the dressings are produced in small batches, so there is absolutely no compromise on flavour or quality,” Williams says. “We also put a great deal of time into creating the recipes to ensure we had an ambient product that would be easy to handle and store for our retailers but had also a good shelf life for consumers.”
The dressings are being made in-house but, in order to scale efficiently, the company is now looking to outsource production. “Finding someone who understands what your product is about and shares your vision is really important but it’s not easy to make that connection. In fact, I’d say that finding an outsource partner and getting to grips with the mountains of paperwork have been the hardest parts of the transition,” says Williams who estimates development costs for the new business, which has been self-funded, at approximately €60,000.
One of the good things to come out of the lockdowns for the couple was the return of their son Oscar from New York. He is now actively involved in the business, working on sales and digital marketing
“Extending the range is certainly on the cards, most likely into related savoury products, but the immediate focus is on consolidating our manufacturing and broadening our customer base. We recently added a new French dressing to the line-up which is suitable for vegans as it contains maple syrup rather than honey. We felt it was important to have products that are suitable for his important emerging sector.
“The French dressing was developed during the pandemic and it is slightly less sweet – perfect with all greens and salads,” Williams adds. “We are also moving into the food service sector with our signature basil and lime dressing in larger containers which will allows delis, cafes, golf clubs and so on to extend their food offering in a hassle-free way.”
One of the good things to come out of the lockdowns for the couple was the return of their son Oscar from New York. He is now actively involved in the business, working on sales and digital marketing. “Oscar is a business graduate and he has plenty of ideas about how we should move forward,” Williams says. “Indeed, he was very influential in encouraging us to become part of Supervalu’s food academy, which supports and promotes Irish producers. As a small artisan producer, it has been the best route for us into the supermarket space and it was also an opportunity to get great support and advice.”