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An appetite for success

Ireland’s artisanal food producers play a vital role in cementing our reputation for delicious, locally sourced food

Sinéad O’Brien of Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co in Galway.

Sinéad O’Brien of Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co in Galway.

 

A country’s food culture is all part of the traveller’s experience. In Ireland’s case, the produce of a veritable army of artisanal food companies is to be found in bars, restaurants and cafes up and down the country.

Whether sitting on top of B&B breakfast sideboards or underneath the silver cloches of Michelin-starred restaurants, they play a vital part in keeping tourists – and locals alike – wonderfully well-fed.

Many of them have come through the FoodService Academy, a business development programme run in partnership between Musgrave and Bord Bia.

Musgrave is committed to supporting the Irish food sector, says its new managing director Noel Keeley.

He was previously managing director of Musgrave MarketPlace, a wholesale supplier to food-service, retail and SME businesses, with more than 14,000 product lines. He is credited with having transformed MarketPlace, turning it in to a one-stop shop for the hospitality sector.

“We are the only 100 per cent Irish-owned national retail and food-service wholesaler. We want to grow Irish food businesses and will continue to support over 680 Irish companies spending over €430 million with them annually through our Irish supplier network,” says Keeley.

“We will continue to work hard to support indigenous entrepreneurs through our FoodService Academy partnership with Bord Bia.”

The FoodService Academy is now in its fourth year and currently has more than 20 participants, ranging from a nut butter company to jams, soups and protein balls.

“The programme helps Irish food businesses that are new to the food-service market to grow and develop through workshops on topics like digital media, trends, innovation, and food safety, as well as one-on-one mentoring and support,” he says.

It’s a very hands on, practical course, designed to help participants grow. “The Musgrave MarketPlace team participate in the workshops, sharing insights and practical advice to help companies achieve their goals,” says Keeley.

The FoodService Academy also gives participants access to Musgrave MarketPlace’s customer base, supplying three quarters of the hotels, and over half the pubs and restaurants in Ireland.

Participants in the FoodService Academy programme include Sinéad O’Brien of Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Co in Galway. O’Brien set it up after growing up harvesting kelp to feed the abalone on her mother’s aquaculture farm and discovering there was a market out there for Irish seaweed.

Seaweed seasonings

The Mungo Murphy range of seaweed seasonings was created to help people include more seaweed in their diet in an easy and tasty way. Its range features a variety of seaweed seasonings blended with spices and herbs to make cooking with seaweed, making dressings with seaweed and even baking with seaweed, simple. In 2015, Mungo Murphy’s Seaweed Company was awarded a prestigious Eurotoque Food Award for its range of hand-harvested seaweed.

Artisanal drinks companies are encouraged to participate on the programme too. Ballykilcavan Brewery is based at Ballykilcavan Farm near Stradbally, Co Laois. It has been the home of the Walsh family since 1639 and David and Lisa are the 13th generation of the family to live and work there. The new brewery is installed in their 230-year-old stone grain store, and they grow all the barley they brew with on the farm.

The company currently produces four core beers, along with seasonal specials. The core beers are a pale ale, an India pale ale, a traditional Irish red ale and a stout. All are named after fields on the farm. One of the seasonal specials is the annual fresh hopped ale, made from hops sourced exclusively from the Ballykilcavan hop garden.

Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese came about after the Murphy family first made Ardsallagh cheese at their family farm in the townland of Ardsallagh on the Cork-Waterford border. Since then, they have been refining their cheeses and ensuring the best-possible quality. They still use traditional handmade production methods and new generations of the family have brought fresh life and new products to the company.

Like many Irish artisanal producers, Ardsallagh has always understood that chefs are their primary customers and feeding the needs of the food-service sector has always been its primary aim.

Ardsallagh now makes a range of different goat’s cheeses in several different formats. Its 1kg soft goat’s cheese log is perhaps its best-known product, famous for its versatility, creamy and mild flavour as well as being rindless – for zero wastage.

Market leader

Dublin woman Jo Davy, a trained holistic nutritionist, has created a great range of high-energy and high-protein snacks and treats under the brand Jo’s Absolute Nutrition. She set up the business in 2014 and has since propelled herself up the snack category to become an acknowledged market leader over the past three years, winning numerous food and business awards along the way.

Like so many of Ireland’s most successful artisanal producers, she started out in her kitchen. Today, she owns her own gluten-free bakery in Dublin, which employs eight full-time staff.

Tom and Laura Sinnott of Wexford Home Preserves started out in the food business when Tom’s Aunt Ellen, who had set up the business in 1988, was looking to retire. She had set up the cottage enterprise as a way to ensure there was no waste from her family’s strawberry growing business. Having worked in hotel kitchens, Tom’s wife Laura understands the food service sector well.

Like many of the food businesses on the FoodService Academy, their products will be well-known to retail consumers too. Wexford Home Preserves is a familiar brand in supermarkets such as SuperValu, Dunnes and Tesco, not least because Tom very early on was canny enough to see the value of handcrafting his own wooden stands to display them. That helped them achieve the supermarket Holy Grail – ‘standout’.

The company now has a range of jams including strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, gooseberry, rhubarb and ginger. It has no added sugar products and a great special edition range, named after Ellen, which includes Irish Poitín Marmalade and Irish Whiskey Marmalade.

Supports available

Irish artisanal food and drink producers have a number of supports available to them. The Local Enterprise Office network and Bord Bia partner to run Food Academy, aimed at helping small food businesses to start up, grow and get onto supermarket shelves. There are currently goods from more than 300 Food Academy small producers in SuperValu stores.

The Dublin Food Chain, which was set up by Dublin’s four Local Enterprises Offices with the support of Bord Bia, enables food producers, food retailers and food-service providers to work together and learn from one another. Its members include everyone from start-ups to long-established food businesses. Over the years, it has run a number of formal training programmes, including Food Starter, a two-day early-stage initiative.

Food Works, launched jointly by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc, is an accelerator programme designed to help give start-up food businesses a leg up in both the home and export markets. Teagasc brings the food technology expertise, Bord Bia the consumer and market insights and Enterprise Ireland the business and funding know-how.