Food is in Niamh Scally’s blood. As the daughter of Eugene and Caitriona Scally, the owners of Scally’s Supermarket in Clonakilty, Niamh grew up learning from the best.
“My parents encouraged my entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, as well as a real passion for supporting local producers,” she says. “I grew up watching my uncle Martin growing potatoes and then selling them in our supermarket so from childhood I had an understanding and appreciation for supporting these smaller producers.”
With her eye on a career in food retail, Niamh graduated with a BSC from University College Cork where she studied food marketing and entrepreneurship and went on to be accepted for the Musgrave Commercial Graduate Programme. She kickstarted her career working in the marketing department across the SuperValu and Centra brands before travelling to Australia in 2019 to work with the Coles retail group working on business development and brand reinvigoration.
When the pandemic hit, Niamh returned to Ireland and joined the family business in Supervalu Clonakilty and immediately saw an area of the market that she could develop.
“In 2015, my father started an in-store gluten-free bakery called Clonakilty Gluten Free Kitchen,” she explains. It was the first of its kind in Ireland and was inspired — as most things are in Scally’s — by a customer. “A mother of a young child came into the shop looking for a gluten-free novelty birthday cake, and my dad thought to himself ‘how can this child not have a birthday cake?’”
Eugene went on to invest in a specialist gluten-free bakery which proved hugely popular. In the height of lockdown, Niamh saw how customers who would usually travel to Scally’s to stock up on their gluten-free goodies were finding it hard to get their hands on high-quality products, so she set the wheels in motion to expand the brand in its own right.
“There’s a huge market for quality gluten-free produce in Ireland with an estimated 50,000 people living with coeliac disease in Ireland and a further 400,000 who are gluten intolerant,” she says. “I really saw the opportunity to take it to the next level and instead of bringing customers to us, why not try get the range to them?” One year ago, she undertook her mission to grow the brand from a gluten-free unit to the rear of the store into a fully-fledged independent business.
Since then, Clonakilty Gluten Free Kitchen has moved into a new stand-alone production unit in Bandon last October and is stocked in 20 stockists across Munster. The bakery range includes four different breads, an apple tart and a tea brack.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that the range has been developed by non-coeliacs for coeliacs. We taste test everything and we really stand over the fact that we do not sell anything that we wouldn’t eat ourselves.”
The brand has been given the seal of approval by the Coeliac Society of Ireland which has added it to its official Food List, compiled in accordance with current EC legislation.
In October, Clonakilty Gluten Free Kitchen was lauded at the Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards 2021 where it claimed gold for its gluten-free white bread rolls and silver for its multigrain loaf.
Reflecting on a year since she took the reigns of the brand, Niamh Scally says that in many ways for her family, this is a full-circle moment.
“I think for my parents, watching me do this has reminded them of what it was like when my dad started his business. They see all the enthusiasm and the energy and passion I have for the business, and they instilled that in me and in my siblings. It’s really exciting to see another food journey begin in our family.”