Caroline started with four hens. Now she supplies SuperValu

Londoner Caroline Murphy never thought she’d end up selling eggs. She tells Denis Lehane how it happened

Londoner Caroline Murphy never thought she’d end up selling eggs. She tells Denis Lehane how it happened

I remember when I was growing up, there used to be this saying “It’s a thing so good, it could sell itself.”

Well now of course, we all realise that nothing sells itself. Be it an airline ticket, a newspaper, or an egg. If a product is not promoted properly, it will fall flat. Everything needs a push in order to take off, grab the eye, or satisfy the hunger.

And so to West Cork Eggs where, if there is one obvious factor attributing to the success of the business, it’s the boss, Caroline Murphy.

The London-born savvy lady with a head for business, saw she had a good wholesome product to push and pushed it onto the supermarket shelves and into some of Corks finest hotels and restaurants.

But let’s go back to the beginning, because life for Caroline did not begin in the rural setting of west Cork’s Rosscarbery (where she now farms with her husband Batt) but in the hustle and bustle of a busy London.

“Both my parents come from Ireland. My dad Barry from West Cork, my mum Mary from Kilkenny. They emigrated to England back in the 1960s like many more.

“I would have had a very industrious background. My dad worked in construction, house conservations that kind of thing. He also had a timber and hardware yard. My mother ran a café. It was a self employed environment. My brother Johnny works for himself in London these days.”

And while the working day was spent in London, holidays were always enjoyed in Ireland.

“We spent our summers in Ireland. Over here on the ferry for six weeks. That kind of thing.”

However it was a trip to Ireland back in 1999 that was the change everything for Caroline.

“I had only planned to stay in Ireland for 12 months,” she explains. “I had always loved Ireland. I just loved the life. I loved the clean water, the fresh air and the craic. And I wanted to see what life would be like.

“In London, I had worked in HR, sales and credit control. I just wanted a change of scene for a while.

“I never envisaged for a moment that I would stay here for good. That simply wasn’t part of the plan.”

But she did. She fell for a farmer, and he for her. She met Batt Murphy, a dairy farmer from Rosscarbery and she never looked back. They married and now live on the family farm in Inchanoon, Rosscarbery with their four children Billy 14, Kaitlin 12, Callum 9, and Isabelle aged 6.

In 2009, with children now in their lives, Caroline purchased four hens. “I wanted to get back to basics, to get back to nature. I wanted the children to know where their food comes from.

“I got four hens, my dad build a chicken run, and we were away.”

With friends and neighbours happily taking eggs, Caroline purchased a few more hens.

“The eggs became popular and I started to wonder was there something in this.”

“It all happened very organically, very gradually, but at the same time, before I knew it I had 200 hens.

“So I approached Eugene Scally of Scallys SuperValu in Clonakilty. We shopped there all the time. I asked would he take free range eggs from us.

“Eugene said yes, and would let the customers decide if he’d keep stocking them.”

“And this was a fantastic start.

“So we got the flock registered with the department and we got into the business of packaging the eggs.

“We chose a blue box and got a label done. And were very proud of it all.

“We put the eggs in Scallys and they sold. They sold really well. I knew we were onto something.

“This gave me the confidence to apply to the Food Academy Programme, and that was amazing, because this gives small producers a chance to get into SuperValu stores.

“I also got involved with the Local Enterprise Office.

“There were a lot of skills for starting a business that I had, but there were certain skills that I needed to learn or get better at. So I did a Start Your Own Business course with the Enterprise Office and around that time they were offering free mentoring. I got together with a lady called Jackie Gowran.

“Jackie is very creative. Creativity is not my strong point. So she looked at our labels and our blue boxes and, to put it politely, Jackie didn’t think they were great.

“She put us in touch with Aisling Carmody, Aisling came up with brown boxes, which look more organic, and the wrap around labels and the logo. We started to get the brand out there. And our message was really that our eggs are a genuine and authentic product.

“Today we have 3,000 hens. Two mobile hen houses contain the hens (1500 hens in each). And each day they are left out on an acre and a half of grass.

“The houses can be moved if needs be. The ground is always fresh and never grazed out. Eggs are stamped and packaged on site. I think one of the drivers to our success is that we can say we have today’s egg on the shelves tomorrow. So as fresh an egg as you can get.”

For the first six months Caroline did all the van delivery of eggs herself. “I found it a great grounding for myself. You get the know all that store managers and so on, and this I feel is important. Building up that connection.

“I have always believed that it is important to be nice in business. We have a van driver now, and when he started I said please don’t be the grumpy van driver. I’m sure we all know the type. I just didn’t want it to be our one.”

Today, 18 SuperValu stores across the county stock West Cork Eggs, plus independent retailers and restaurants. Not a bad result for the plucky London girl with an eye for business in rural West Cork.

For success in any commercial business you surely need two components, namely a good product and an ability to push it. With West cork eggs, you have both.

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