Foul weather in­spires a happy change of plan

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Áilín Quin­lan

When the dark storm clouds gathered back in 2012 — with a long spell of foul weather and a ma­jor price war — veg­etable farm­ers San­dra Burns and her hus­band Joe felt it was time to change di­rec­tion and di­ver­sify.

The Kil­leagh, Co Cork, cou­ple de­cided to give their veg­eta­bles added value — and Joe’s Farm Crisps was born. The cou­ple started pro­duc­tion, mak­ing car­rot, parsnip and beet­root crisps for their lo­cal Farm­ers Mar­kets in early 2014 — their first haul of 70 bags sold out in un­der an hour.

“We knew we’d tapped into some­thing,” re­calls San­dra, adding that soon af­ter­wards, the Castle­mar­tyr Re­sort started us­ing the crisps as its choice of gar­nish with sand­wiches.

The com­pany joined the Su­perValu Food Acad­emy, and its prod­ucts are now on sale in sev­eral Su­perValu out­lets as well as 80 in­de­pen­dent stores around the coun­try. Last Novem­ber, the cou­ple launched a mixed potato crisp — and just a few months ago, Joe’s Farm Crisps was se­lected to par­tic­i­pate in the ‘ In. gre­di­ents’ pro­gramme run by Bord Bia part­ner­ing with KSG Cater­ing.

It’s been an eye-opener, says San­dra, who says that un­der the pro­gramme, she got to meet chefs who in­tro­duced her to the idea of a po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive new cus­tomer base.

From con­ver­sa­tions with chefs, she says, they re­alised up­wardly mo­bile young pro­fes­sion­als, as well as third-level stu­dents and air­port trav­ellers, would be very open to the idea of her mouth-wa­ter­ing veg­etable crisps.

“We got in­valu­able in­for­ma­tion through meet­ing with the chefs, who are very pas­sion­ate about the foods they use and who gave us great in­sights into who their cus­tomers are.”

Not only, she dis­cov­ered were many head chefs open to the idea of some­body like San­dra mak­ing con­tact with them to sug­gest new and dif­fer­ent foods, but through her meet­ings with them, she learned about the ex­is­tence of a po­ten­tially new group of cus­tomers for Joe’s Farm Crisps — a de­mo­graphic she had not pre­vi­ously thought about:

“We have a loyal cus­tomer base at our Farmer’s Mar­ket, and we have now, iden­ti­fied through the pro­gramme an­other type of cus­tomer — young, trendy up­wardly mo­bile; some­one who likes to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent foods.”

Such cus­tomers, she re­alised were to be found in air­ports, IT com­pa­nies and even col­lege cam­puses. Up to the time she started meet­ing with the chefs, she says, the com­pany tar­geted its prod­ucts very gen­er­ally at the re­tail sec­tor.

“We have learned to be more fo­cused and adopt a tar­geted ap­proach to po­ten­tial new cus­tomers.

“The pro­gramme gave us ac­cess to a lot of valu­abl e in­for­ma­tion about the kind of peo­ple who en­joy our prod­uct and why — you could never get that in­for­ma­tion by sim­ply sell­ing your prod­uct over the counter at a farmer’s mar­ket,” said San­dra.

When I phoned, Arun Kapil was, of course in In­dia — where else — meet­ing with the farm­ers who pro­duce the aro­matic spices used in Green Saf­fron’s pop­u­lar range of foods.

The spices travel from that ex­otic con­ti­nent to the com­pany’s base in Mi­dle­ton, Co Cork, mak­ing the trip from source to sauce in just eight weeks.

Any­body who en­joys mak­ing their own cur­ries from scratch will be fa­mil­iar with the brightly coloured Green Saf­fron spice mixes — as well as the aro­matic sauces and chut­neys pro­duced by this multi- award win­ning com­pany, which was for­mally launched a decade ago.

In the years since then the pop­u­lar Mi­dle­ton, Co Cork, com­pany has been steadily carv­ing out an un­par­al­leled rep­u­ta­tion for the su­perb range of spices which form the foun­da­tion of its range — spices sourced by fam­ily mem­bers in Mo­rad­abad, In­dia.

Now em­ploy­ing 10 peo­ple, Green Saf­fron is not rest­ing on its lau­rels. It is cur­rently, says Brand Di­rec­tor and Cus­tomer Re­la­tions man­ager Olive Kapil, plan­ning an ex­cit­ing ‘brand re­fresh’ to be launched next month.

Green Saf­fron started life in the Farm­ers’ Mar­kets of Cork and Lim­er­ick — and the com­pany still runs reg­u­lar stalls at Ma­honPoint, Ball­y­seedy and Lim­er­ick, be­cause it be­lieves there’s no bet­ter feed­back than what you get face- to- face from a cus­tomer at the counter”

Al­though the Ir­ish mar­ket is its main fo­cus — its aim is to be­come the lead­ing spice provider here — Green Saf­fron also ex­ports to France and Eng­land, and has a broad cus­tomer base in Amer­ica, Aus­tralia and across Europe.

Join­ing the In. gre­di­ents pro­gramme four months ago, says Olive, has turned into a great op­por­tu­nity:

“KSG is keen on our spice blends and our sauces and we hope to join the com­pany as one of its sup­pli­ers,” she says, adding that, thanks to the pro­gramme, the com­pany is get­ting a bet­ter in­sight into the re­quire­ments of food com­pa­nies in terms of the lo­gis­tics of the sup­ply chain and, for ex­am­ple, pack­ing re­quire­ments.

“We are gain­ing in­sights into the food ser­vice in­gre­di­ents di­vi­sion which al­lows us to grow and build vol­ume into our raw ma­te­rial sup­ply chain.

“I f we can meet the re­quire­ments of KSG as a food ser­vice com­pany, then we will hope­fully join their group of sup­pli­ers, which makes our spices ac­ces­si­ble to so many peo­ple around the coun­try, and we will grow vol­ume in Ire­land.”

“For us the qual­ity of our prod­uct is paramount, and stay­ing true to our prod­uct and not wa­ver­ing form the stan­dard we have set our­selves is our Num­ber One pri­or­ity,” Olive de­clares.

San­dra Burns of Joe’s Farm veg­etable crisps — grown and cooked on the cou­ple’s farm in East Cork.

Arun Kapil from Green Saf­fron, a Cork-based fam­ily busi­ness pro­duc­ing spice blends, sauces and chut­neys from spices sourced in In­dia; Green Saf­fron is one of seven Ir­ish food and drink com­pa­nies to have joined the ‘In.gre­di­ents’ pro­gramme with Bord Bia...

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