The bread of life
In the third profile in our Meet the Makers series, in partnership with Love Irish Food, Maev Martin talks to MICHAEL MCCAMBRIDGE of McCambridge Bread, producers of the iconic wholewheat and soda bread that has become a household staple in Ireland and further afield
Most Irish consumers are familiar with the McCambridge name and have been purchasing their range of nutritious breads over the past 20 years or so, but the company has been in the food business for many decades. Michael’s grandfather, Malcolm McCambridge opened a grocery store in Ranelagh in Dublin in 1945, having moved from the family retail business on Shop Street in Galway. The latter still thrives in family hands to this day. However, while the Dublin business began as a grocery store, the grocery operation was gradually wound down and McCambridge became a manufacturer with a very specific focus on bread, a focus that has been extremely successful for the family in the domestic and, more recently, overseas market.
“My grandfather established a delicatessen, which was a new concept in Ireland at that time,” he says. “Initially selling products sourced from around the world, he gradually developed a range of local produce made with the help of a team located in the kitchen just behind the store. About 80% of the products sold in the grocery store were made in that kitchen so, in many ways, it was an early Donnybrook Fair or Cavistons.”
“Superquinn, Quinnsworth and Dunnes started purchasing the products for distribution in their stores in the late 1980s and early 1990s, everything from soda bread and wholewheat bread to cakes and a range of Irish ice cream, which we made ourselves. The ice cream was a fantastic product. It was ahead of its time, but it couldn’t compete with the mass market, so we reversed out of ice cream production in the mid 1990s. We then moved out of the cakes market for the same reason – our cakes were a perfect fit for low volume, high end retail, but not for the volume market that we were playing in.”
In the mid-1990s, Irish Pride Bakeries began distributing McCambridge Bread outside Dublin and by 1998, bread was the sole focus of their manufacturing efforts. In the early 2000s, the company moved into a modern production facility in Rathcoole and acquired an adjacent facility for the production of its gluten-free products. Michael McCambridge joined the family business in 1994.
Part of a healthy lifestyle
A well-established household favourite with Irish consumers, Michael reports that McCambridge Bread gets lots of comments from people overseas who tell them that they miss their bread when they are abroad. “McCambridge Bread is in that nostalgic, typical Irish breakfast space, but it also appeals to young consumers who are time poor, so we work on continuing to recruit a younger generation while keeping our brand personality as an Irish family food business,” he says.
McCambridge Bread will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year and it is a celebration of a product that began with his grandmother Ellen McCambridge’s recipe. “That recipe has stayed the same for the past 75 years and our bread is made using excellent coarse Irish wholemeal flour and Irish buttermilk.” The importance of eating natural foods as part of a healthy lifestyle will be the key message running through all of their 75th anniversary celebrations. “We want to highlight the fact that our bread is high in dietary fibre, has no added sugar, and is low in salt, which makes it a very healthy product,” he says.
“There has been a huge emphasis on the reduction of salt in the diet and we have consistently worked with the Food Safety Authority to reduce the salt content in our breads and that has been very successful. Because we have no added sugar, our bread is ideal for those who are diabetic and is a product that doctors recommend, so our message will be all about living healthy.” That message will feature on radio ads in January and February 2021. “We will also focus more on the social media space throughout the year where we will run competitions around our history, recognising that the things that were important 75 years ago, such as sustainability, are important once again.”
Sustainable products and packaging
While the health and wellness credentials of McCambridge’s soda, wholewheat and glutenfree breads make it a key part of the sustainability agenda in Ireland, the company is also working to make the packaging of that bread as sustainable as possible. “We are very involved in sustainability but, in our opinion, Covid-19 has moved it down the agenda in consumers’ minds,” he says. “There is a cost to sustainable packaging and in the current market, with the economic pressures brought on by Covid-19, and to a lesser extent Brexit, I don’t believe that people are prepared to pay that price. Changing from a petrol-based plastic to a plant-based plastic is more expensive and the question has to be asked, will the market pay for it? However, sustainability is still very much a part of our plans. For example, we have converted our gluten-free bread to 100% sustainable packaging – it features a card-based tray that can go in the green bin and the film is a certified 100% compostable film, so it goes in the food waste bin. We plan to introduce sustainable packaging on the rest of our range when the market is ready to accept it.”
Eyeing the export market
About 10% of the McCambridge business is export, but a big goal for next year is to increase that to 15%. They are confident that the new cereal-based products that they will be developing in 2021 will help them to realise their export ambitions. “Our core bread portfolio is a fresh and short shelf life product, so we are looking to create other products that have a longer shelf life that we can export, such as cereal-based bread mixes, including glutenfree mixes.” McCambridge’s bake at home range, Bread Tin Bakery, was introduced to the market in the Love Irish Food tent at Bloom 2018. “We wanted to bring bread baking back to Irish kitchens, so we decided to introduce our simple and convenient Bread Tin Bakery concept,” says Michael. “We’ve taken the McCambridge family bread recipes, cut out the messy bits, and created simple bread kits, which include a bread tin and our signature mess-free mixing bag. Now consumers can make McCambridge Bread at home, anywhere in the world, and they can use any milk in the mix – buttermilk, soya, coconut or almond milk. The Bread Tin Bakery is available to purchase from our website, from Ocado and from Amazon, as well as from retailers in Ireland, including Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Musgrave, and independent retailers such as Avoca. It isn’t a mass market product but, again, it is a way for us to grow the export side of our business as it has a long shelf life.” McCambridge Bread do a lot of business with the foodservice sector and with the airlines and Dublin Airport – all of that business went south during the first Covid-19 lockdown period. “However, we did experience a significant increase in demand in our bread mix business and in our online export business,” he says. “Any decline from the foodservice and travel side of the business was compensated for by the increase in our export and online business, and by the growth in demand for our bread mixes here in Ireland.”
Love Irish Food
Mc Cambridge Bread became a member of Love Irish Food in 2015. “Our membership of Love Irish Food has had an extremely positive impact on our business,” says Michael McCambridge. “Being a member of the organisation further endorses our position with Irish consumers as an Irish family food manufacturer. It has also aligned us with other members of Love Irish Food, such as Ballymaloe, whose products are renowned for being part of a quality and healthy Irish breakfast offer. There has been a meeting of minds between McCambridge and Love Irish Food because their ethos reflects our philosophy as a company. Like Love Irish Food and the other LIF members, we are all about sourcing products in Ireland and sourcing products whose raw materials, where possible, are sourced in Ireland. “We are also strong on contributing to the communities that we work in by providing local employment. About 85% of our 50 employees are from Rathcoole or its environs. When it comes to our suppliers, we buy our flour from Odlums and our grain-based ingredients are from Shackleton’s in Ashbourne and Kell’s in Bennetsbridge in Kilkenny. We source our packaging from a range of local Irish companies. It is important to support Irish companies at every stage in the supply chain in order to enhance the sustainability of the supply chain and to give the national economy a much-needed boost.”