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This is how you make it as an Irish foodie when your rivals 'aren't playing fair'

We talk to the man behind Skelligs Chocolate on the importance of supporting Irish.

TOO MANY PRODUCTS are passed off as Irish when they are really made cheaply overseas then packaged and marketed as local goods, one food manufacturer says.

“People are using the words ‘home-made’ and ‘artisan’ with almost gay abandon,” Colm Healy, who for the past decade has been running Skelligs Chocolate in Co Kerry, told TheJournal.ie.

“The Irish thing is important, but it annoys me when people aren’t playing fair.”

Healy’s company is among a growing number of boutique Irish producers which are making their marks in the food industry.

The sector has become a booming field for startups, with new training grounds like the Food Academy programme recently springing up.

Healy took over the business about a decade ago after another couple established the Ballinskelligs chocolate factory in the mid-90s.

Rep of Ireland County Kerry Source: Michael Herrmann

And despite a devastating fire in 2010 which nearly destroyed the operation, he said the company had been able to increase its turnover fivefold since the factory was rebuilt, to about €1.1 million a year.

Healy said food tourism was now a big part of the business after he realised the benefit of opening up the production facility to visitors. It now employs 15 full-time staff and an extra five, seasonal workers.

And being able to show buyers that the product was genuinely locally-made remained a major selling point in a market where chocolate was often sold as a cheap commodity.

The big advantage for us it that we can show people the product being made – they can ask questions and there is nothing hidden,” he said.

Rep of Ireland County Kerry Source: Michael Herrmann

People want Irish

A recent survey from lobby group Love Irish Food, set up to promote locally-manufactured groceries, found 87% of people tried to buy local products when they could – but over €3 billion in food and drinks was still being imported each year.

Healy said he believed people should choose Irish producers wherever possible – as long as the quality and value-for-money were there.

“For me it’s quite simple – I would rather keep the business at home,” he said.

All things being equal, I would absolutely buy Irish – I’m proud of my country and I want to support it where I can. And I’m happy to pay a premium for that, just not a big premium.”

Skelligs

6 tips for starting your own Irish food business

1. Think like a big business

“You should be thinking like a big business from day one and planning all your processes for that – keep in your mind that is what your aiming for.”

2. Be true to your core message

“Decide what you stand for and make sure you are true to that. For us, we make good quality chocolate. We will make products for (other brands), but this is the price point because this is the quality – irrespective of whose name is on it, we won’t compromise on quality because we need to be able to stand over the product.”

3. Make sure you keep the cash flowing

“I see a lot of people naively going into business who are so delighted when they get a contract, but then they don’t look at the 60-day payments period and then they run into major cashflow problems.”

4. Be your customer

“Research … if you were the one who was going to buy what you are selling, what are the aspects that you would want to see in the product?”

5. Keep an eye on the competition

“See what they are doing and find your niche – see if there is a gap in the market you can exploit.”

6. Don’t be afraid to ask

“There are a lot of people out there with a lot of experience who are happy to help, but newcomers are often afraid to ask.”

This month, as part of TheJournal.ie’s ongoing small and medium enterprise (SME) focus, we look at product provenance – how buying local matters and the importance of traceability. 

To view previous articles in our SME series click HERE.

READ: Will calorie counts on menus put you off your restaurant dinner? >

READ: Got milk? Ireland’s cows will be giving us a LOT more of the white stuff >

About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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