Nominee: Brian Irwin WD Irwin & Sons Ltd


Irwin's was established in 1912 as a grocery retailer and has evolved to incorporate locally based retail, wholesale and construction businesses.

Brian Irwin entered the business in the early 1980s and has developed it into the largest indigenous bakery in Northern Ireland, supplying most of the large UK multiples. His business portfolio includes quality sands and aggregates, and property development.

The property development division is regeneration-led, which includes the development of a 160,000ft, 28-outlet shopping centre in Portadown town centre.

They also have a €35 million mixed housing regeneration development currently under way in Monaghan.

The development of the bakery business included acquiring two other bakeries, McCaldins and McCanns. The company has 480 employees across the bakery and aggregates business.


The bakery division develops and manufactures an extensive, award-winning portfolio of sliced breads.

Moreover, it produces morning and hotplate goods, functional and health-giving breads (including a folic acid range and the UK's first low GI white) and speciality Irish breads (including unique partnerships with Guinness and celebrity Irish chef Paul Rankin).

The sands and aggregates division produce, process and pack materials for construction, landscape, DIY, water and leisure industries.

The property development is involved in commercial property development and regeneration projects.


The bakery supplies more than 1,000 retail and food service customers across Great Britain and emerging European markets, including all major multiples and independents: Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Morrison's, Waitrose, Dunnes, Superquinn, MSCV, Spar, Mace, Costcutter, Brakes and BHS. Sands and aggregates supplies more than 500 customers across Ireland's public and private sectors - district councils, water boards, and businesses such as Tobermore Concrete, Westland, Smyths Toys, Sol Golf, JP Corrys, Techcrete and Earth Tec.

What is your biggest business achievement?

Taking successful but plateauing family business, injecting new life into it through investment and diversification, and seeing all divisions thrive against fierce competition.

Highlights along the way include building Portadown shopping centre, suitably on the site of our old bakery, simultaneously relocating bakery to a purpose-built premises and devising Rankin Selection breads, growing it from £0 to £12 million sales in under four years in a new market. Sustaining employment and supporting the local and regional economy throughout has also been a great achievement.

What motivates you to succeed? Who do you measure yourself/your success against?

The UK industry is increasingly dominated by multinationals and I'm motivated by the hunger to succeed against this competition - we're doing just that!

Express the biggest challenge you see your industry facing.

Continued growth against the "might" of the multinationals, which have larger budgets to meet fluctuating consumer demands and to influence this demand through high budget communications.

For example, the consumer-facing bread industry is currently challenged by the bombardment of conflicting diet/health advice eroding consumer confidence in certain foods. Using our long-standing experience and innovative strategy, we are cutting through this to restore trust in bread as essential to a balanced diet - delivering wholesomeness and creating specific products with industry firsts such as low GI white and folic acid breads.