Trish Dromey meets a County Tipperary couple who survived the recession with their award-winning cakes and meringues.
When the judges in the UK Great Taste Awards described its butterscotch sauce as “heaven in a bowl” and awarded it three gold stars, it seemed as if things couldn’t get any better for The Tipperary Kitchen in Holycross.
But then, the judges picked its sauce as one of the Top 50 products in the competition.
“Our sauce is one of 50 selected from 10,000 entries and is one of only three Irish products on this list - it’s absolutely incredible for us,’’ says company co-founder Anne Marie Walsh who has, since the announcement earlier this month, been approached by several distributors interested in supplying the UK market with the company’s sauces, meringues and biscuit cakes.
The award couldn’t have come at a better time for The Tipperary Kitchen, which started out in the boom, survived the recession and is now making plans to establish a new food production facility, increase sales and to migrate into the food service industry.
It all began when Ms Walsh and her husband Brian set up shop at the Holycross Stores, in 2005. In subsequent years their survival strategy involved building a small bakery, selling cakes and bread to local stores and also developing products which could be sold nationally.
The couple identified a gap in the market, first for high-quality biscuit cake, made with local butter and Belgian chocolate, and then for meringues.
“Our meringues are hand piped and slow baked with added flavours which make them unique. This year we also won two gold stars at the UK Great Taste Awards for our beetroot and ginger meringues,” she says.
Registering The Tipperary Kitchen in 2010, the couple started selling newly rebranded Holycross chocolate biscuit cakes to speciality shops.
“We had spent a year working out the best way to wrap and present them – we created a log shape and made them our signature product,” Ms Walsh says.
Supported by the local enterprise office, the company worked on building sales, and for a few years supplied Fortnum & Mason in London and Selfridges with chocolate biscuit case, but later stopped due to distribution difficulties.
The company’s major breakthrough came in 2014 when it was selected to take part in the first SuperValu Food Academy Programme.
“In 2014, we started selling in 12 SuperValu stores and are now in 190,’’ says Ms Walsh.
Employing a staff of seven, The Tipperary Kitchen still has a shop and local bakery, but the sale of products to SuperValu and specialty stores now accounts for over 70% of turnover.
The company increased turnover by 50% last year but has encountered capacity problems, which it plans to solve by setting up a new facility to produce its three main product lines.
“We have identified a new premises and we hope to start production there either late this year or early next year,’’ says Ms Walsh.
She has identified a gap in the food service area for high-quality biscuit cakes and meringues, and also sees opportunities there for the company’s acclaimed butterscotch sauce.
With €15,000 raised through crowdfunding, the Tipperary Kitchen has now begun working on developing products for the catering industry.
It has also applied to Tipperary Local Enterprise Office for assistance with its expansion plans.
Those plans were already in place when the UK Great Taste Awards were announced earlier this month, opening up further opportunities.
Ms Walsh says the key focus will still be the move into supplying the food service industry but that she and her husband will explore all the new opportunities that present themselves.
She believes it is possible the UK Great Taste win may help the company develop exports earlier than planned and that attending the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in London in September, as a Top 50 producer, could lead to further opportunities.
The Tipperary Kitchen
Holycross, Co Tipperary
Anne Marie and Brian Walsh
Biscuit cakes, meringues and sauces
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