Sales of the 100,000 gluten-free mince pies being produced by Cork company Delicious this Christmas, have been boosted by a gold medal in the annual UK Great Taste Awards.
It’s been a good year for Delicious which launched a new range of gateaux, signed a deal with Tesco in both Ireland and the UK, and picked up two UK Great Taste awards for Christmas products in September.
Founder and director Denise O’Callaghan is expecting growth of in excess of 40% this year.
“We are now in most Dunnes Stores and most Supervalu stores. Since the summer we are in 45 Tesco stores with some products and in 75 stores with others, and we are now selling our chocolate fudge gateaux in 200 stores in the UK.”
In 2013 she aims to expand sales in Ireland and increase market share in the UK. Part of the plan is to move to a larger premises and to continue to launch new gluten free products.
At its 2000sq ft facility in Carrigaline, seven full time staff as well as five seasonal workers are now busy producing gluten free Christmas goodies as well as its all-year-round range of gluten free products which include chocolate brownies and bread.
Delicious started out small. It was set up 2007 in Ballincollig by Ms O’Callaghan who gave up a career in investment banking to bake gluten free products.
It followed the diagnosis of her father Michael O’Callaghan as a coeliac and preceded the banking crisis.
“At the time a couple of people told me I was mad to give up a secure pensionable job for this — it’s quite ironic,’’ said Ms O’Callaghan.
Her decision to set up Delicious was prompted by the belief that there was “a gap in the market for good tasting gluten free products”.
She had looked for the products for her father and had started baking them herself when she couldn’t find them.
Ms O’Callaghan and her father obtained a small incubation unit in Ballincollig from Cork County Council and they also rented a shop in Douglas, from which they sold both gourmet foods and gluten free products.
“I developed the gluten free products myself. I thought there would be a market for a chocolate brownie, then I made a gluten free version of my mother’s apple slice and tweaked my grandmother’s recipe for teabrack.’’
After 18 months of running between the shop and the bakery, she realised the demand for gluten free products was such that it made sense to focus all her energy on this. She closed the shop and started talking to supermarkets.
In 2009, she began supplying local Supervalu stores, and by 2010 had obtained a central listing with Musgrave to supply all Supervalu stores.
Delicious also began selling to Dunnes and to Aer Lingus and in 2011 moved to a larger premises in Carrigaline Industrial Estate.
Supported in the early stages by Cork County Council and South Cork Enterprise Board, the company received a major boost when it was chosen by AIB to feature in a SME ad.
“This ran for two weeks in March and April this year. The publicity was great, it helped us build our brand identity and increase sales,’’ Ms O’Callaghan said.
At this time Delicious also launched a new range of gateaux. “We were pioneers in this since no one had done gluten free gateaux before,” said Ms O’Callaghan.
The company now has intellectual property rights on 65 gluten free recipes.
In the summer, production went up a gear when Delicious succeeded in getting its gateaux into Tesco stores.
Ms O’Callaghan said the publicity from the AIB ad helped increase the number of stores it supplied.
“We got a full listing with Tesco and while this was happening, a buyer from Tesco UK looked at our chocolate fudge gateaux, liked it, and wanted it.”
This has given Delicious a foothold in the UK market which it plans to put to good use. Bord Bia is currently assisting the company with marketing and Enterprise Ireland is investing in it with a view to helping it develop its export potential.
Despite the difficulties posed by recession, Ms O’Callaghan sees scope for continued growth for her company.
“The market for gluten free products is growing, allergies are on the increase and we are selling to people who have to follow a gluten free diet.’’
She sees the UK market as a very attractive one since it’s growing by 10% and was worth £135m in 2011.
She believes there are good opportunities there for innovative “good tasting’’ gluten free products.
In 2013 she is aiming for a turnover of in excess of €1m and export sales of between 20% and 30%.
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