Wholesome by name, wholesome by nature
Long before sustainability was an integral part of business strategy and reformulation efforts focused on helping consumers to live healthier lives, Folláin’s range of traditional preserves was bringing wholesome jams and marmalades to households nationwide. Maev Martin talks to general manager JOHN DALY and company director MÍCHEÁL Ó LIONÁIRD about increasing market share, the pandemic dividend, and new export and
The word ‘wholesome’ is defined as ‘conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being,’ so
its Irish equivalent, ‘folláin,’ is a particularly apt name for one of Love Irish Food’s founding companies. The
manufacturer won no less than nine accolades at this year’s Blas na hÉireann awards, for both its Folláin and private label products, and
also recently received the prestigious Origin Green Gold membership. A love of cooking and a shared passion for preserving traditions is at the heart of the success that Folláin has enjoyed since the product was first brought to
market in 1983.
Mícheál Ó Lionáird’s mother Máirín Uí Lionáird met Eithne Ui Shiadhail while they were working in the honey business in the
early 1980s, and they decided to join forces to make a traditional preserve. “Folláin was born using a 100-year-old grapefruit marmalade
recipe that had been passed down through the generations,” says Mícheál. “Using Eithne’s grandmother’s recipe, my mother and Eithne whipped up their first batch of grapefruit marmalade in my father Peadar Ó Lionáird and Máirín Uí Lionáird’s family factory in
Cuil Aodha in west Cork.”
After a period of hand preparing the fruit and cooking the jams and marmalades, wordspread quickly about their delicious jams and
marmalades and Superquinn came calling, ordering 100 cases of jams and marmalades to sell in their shops. A few years after that
initial success, and to keep up with the demand for their growing range of preserves and chutneys, Folláin moved to a larger,
purpose-built kitchen in Baile Mhic Íre in Macroom, and in 1995 they won their first Great Taste Award for Folláin Strawberry Jam– and they’ve kept on winning ever since!
After nearly 20 years as a family-managedbusiness, John Daly was appointed as general manager of Folláin in January 2020. The
company’s original founder, Máirín Uí Lionáird retired in 2020, while her husband Peadar is still managing director of the
business. Mícheál sister Mairead is also involved in the company, managing its
sustainability strategy, as well as occupational health and safety.
“We also have a strong management team of professionals in the sales and marketing, supply chain, production, technical and quality control
departments,” says John Daly. “This ensures good continuity in the business. I’m a food scientist and have held numerous production and factory manager roles with the Kerry Group and Manor Farm, as well as with family businesses in the Cork area, so it is great to continue working with a strong family-run business that has good brand values.”
Sustainability and seasonality
Sustainability has been an integral part of the business since day one and as far back as 2004 Folláin gave away a free packet of seeds
with each jar. “This was a big success and by the promotion’s end we had given away over 100,000 seeds for herbs such as basil, chives,parsley and thyme,” says Mícheál. In addition, the company’s commitment to wholesome, healthier food led to the introduction of a No Added Sugar range in 2007 which, Mícheál claims, is “just as sweet as the traditional taste our customers come to expect. Today we have
a Nothing but Fruit range of jams and a No Added Sugar range of relishes, to which we’re constantly adding new recipes.”
In 2009, Folláin planted over 5,000 trees and gave one community in Ireland the chance to win 200
native trees for their local area. “This was a small step towards our goal of creating a
greener and more wholesome environment,” he says. “Folláin is wholesome by name and to us that means good food. In the almost 40 years that we have been in business, that commitment is just getting stronger. A wholesome, more sustainable future is what we want to assure and making good food in a sustainable way is how we intend to do it.”
The conserves market is pretty static, but Folláin has managed to build its share in this market and win strong retailer support for its
products on shelf. “The main catalyst for success has been our Nothing but Fruit range or No Added Sugar range,” says Mícheál. “It has been on the market for approximately 10 years, but has seen a significant uplift in sales over the last five years, and an even greater
increase in the last two years. This is a sustainable product in every way – apart from the contents, it comes in a bespoke glass jarwhich is intended for reuse and we encourage customers to use the jar when finished with it and not just put it in the recycling bin.
Retailers have been very supportive of us and have been enthused by our product’s health credentials and by our innovative and sustainable packaging. My mother was keen to ensure that the new packaging reflected the quality of the product within the jar. We therefore hope that it encourages reuse as it is something that consumers would be reluctant to throw away.”
The Folláin brand is best known to consumers as a marmalade and jam, but the company has been producing relishes and chutneys for over 15 years, although these have been available predominantly in the foodservice sector. “Our relishes were launched nationwide last year,” says John. In
the Checkout Top 100 Brands 2021, Folláin significantly increased its share of the jams market, and is now the number-two brand. “We want to continue to innovate and adapt home recipes to scaled industrial production and market our product across different categories,” he says. “A key part of our strategy is to leverage our wholesome, natural ingredients and good taste credentials to meet customer expectations with all new
products we produce.
“We have extended our range from jams to fruit fillings where consumers use our fruit when baking or as breakfast toppers, so we
are looking to bring our culinary credentials to any other category that utilises our core competency, which is making good food. We are looking at a number of prepared consumer food categories to see where we can move into next. We are already in jams and relishes, so we are looking at using our learnings from foodservice to see if we can apply that to other prepared consumer food products. There is also a strong export market for our product. We have seen that in the US, Canada and Germany over the past year and we would like to extend our reach to other export markets.” Folláin recently redeveloped its website and is offering an online gifting option for its customers just in time for the busy lead intoChristmas 2021. “While this option has been up and running for a couple of months, we haven’t had a major launch yet, but we are hoping to officially launch it soon,” he says.
Local employer Folláin’s impact as a local employer has been significant. The company current employs 48
people and is planning to increase that number over the next few months. “We are in the
process of diversification at the moment,” says John. “We expanded our workforce by eight people over the last 18 to 24 months as there was strong demand for our products during the pandemic. Our food range was viewed as being a healthy product and a lot of people
switched to healthier eating during the pandemic and we benefitted from that trend.
In addition, most people were having breakfast at home during the pandemic and when they are doing that they are having jam on toast and they choose our product for that.” Most of Folláin’s workers are from the local area and some have been employed by the company for between 10 and 15 years. “We have low staff turnover and a dedicated staff and that is what helped us to move from being a small cottage industry to being the size we
are now,” says Mícheál. “It is also sustainable for the community to have a dependable employer in the area.”
The company decided to open a 3,800 square foot purpose-built facility in 2016. “We built it bigger than our
needs at the time, which was a good call, and since then there has been significant investmentin renewable energy and technology to make
the operation as sustainable and energy efficient as possible. Also, a lot of automationand other efficiencies have been introduced to
the production process.”
As we look to 2022, where do John and Mícheál see the Irish economy heading? “Next year will be a challenging one,” says John.
“There are a lot of unknowns as we navigate this stage in the pandemic. Shopping behaviour has changed dramatically, but one
positive on the horizon is that Irish consumers are embracing local and Irish brands, so we
hope that will continue.”
Like all business owners, they are concerned about energy, insurance and materials costs, as well as the availability of labour over the coming months. “However, we believe that we have the correct package of products and thatwe are agile and flexible enough to react to what the market needs,” says Mícheál. “Global supply chain issues could lead to foodprice increases, so we will need to work
closely with our customers to ensure that we have the right offering for the market.”
As a brand that has emerged from local tonational availability, what message do they have for other local food producers? “The
most important thing for companies similar tous is to make sure that their offering is relevant to the market when it is launched,” he says. “They must also keep costs in check, be as sustainable and efficient as possible, and be lean in all processes.”
New product development
For Folláin, it is all about extending its reach into new grocery retail categories and Mícheál says that the company will be using its strong
presence in the foodservice sector to trial and rollout innovations in the retail channel. “We use our foodservice market to grow our stable of products and some of our nonjam products are available through foodservice,” he says. “We have a lot of new and interesting flavours coming through in the foodservice sector, such as sauces and savoury products. Apart from the changes to the retail landscape, the eating out market has also changed significantly, so we have used the last 18 months to develop new flavours in world cuisine. Those sauces are now being rolled out in foodservice, and if they are successful in that sector, we would be looking to make some of them available in the retail channel.”
AS A FOUNDING MEMBER of Love Irish Food and given that the company currently has a seat on the board of the organisation,
what message does Folláin have for Irish food producers? “Love Irish Food’s main function is to help Irish shoppers make
informed choices in the retail sector and it is now more important than ever to keep purchases local,” says John. “We have received mentoring from Love Irish Food and they have been involved in promotional activity to raise awareness of our brand and our products. I would advise other food producers to join the organisation because I feel that Love Irish Food has a key role to play in the Irish retail sector over the coming years.”
Ireland’s original superfood
In the first article in our Meet the Makers series this year, in partnership with Love Irish Food, Flahavan’s managing director JOHN FLAHAVAN and director JAMES FLAHAVAN talk to Maev Martin about thriving in a pandemic, developing a highly successful export market in South Korea, and the quest to source all of their organic oats on the island of Ireland
Flahavan’s sales, marketing and administration teams have been working full-time from home since March 2020. A total of 85 staff are working in their plant at Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford. “We have been splitting staff into pods to ensure that contact is kept to a minimum and we have all of the necessary sanitisation requirements on site,” says John. “We have been very lucky so far in that we haven’t had any positive cases here in the plant, and that can be attributed to the precautions that we and our employees are taking.” And when it comes to their relationship with consumers, Flahavan’s appears to have successfully navigated the waves of uncertainty and challenge presented by the pandemic. “Sales in the Irish market are at the same level as they were pre-Covid-19,” says John. “While the food service sector has gone quiet, the retail side of our operation, which constitutes 85% to 90% of our business, has grown, and exports are still strong. The UK is our main export market. We have also been exporting to the US for the past 15 years.” Like their strong sales in Ireland, the US market has been a big success story for Flahavan’s. “We got a recent read of IRI data to the end of December and it shows that the retail side of our business in the US is up by 33% year-on-year,” says James Flahavan. “About 15% to 20% of our business in the US is food service and, while it hasn’t dropped to zero, that sector has declined significantly from where it was, but the US is one of the few export markets where we are in food service. While we have a national presence in the US market, our two strongest sales regions are the north east, covering the New York metro area and the east coast. The IRI data doesn’t cover Amazon and we also had strong growth online with Amazon, which made up for that shortfall in the foodservice sector.” Big in South Korea Another export market that has delivered for Flahavan’s is South Korea, which they entered six years ago. “We have done well there through a combination of persistence and luck,” says James. “We went into the market when oats were becoming trendier and there were a number of other external factors that contributed to our success. The Korean people were being encouraged to include more fibre in their diets. While rice is their staple carbohydrate, oats have three times the fibre of even brown rice, so they were encouraging the general population to broaden their diet. “In tandem with this, Korean influencers and celebrity culture was on the rise, whether it was actors, musicians or celebrities who had been in the US or other places and were bringing back new foods to Korea. Oats was one food that had become extremely popular, so we entered the market at the right time. Flahavan’s oat products were initially stocked in some of the higher end department stores, and distribution was then expanded to include the wider retail sector and the online channel. “Before Covid-19, online would have been a much bigger part of Korean culture for purchasing groceries compared to Ireland, so they were ahead of us in that sense, and we partnered with some retailers who were exclusively online,” he says. “We have been told by our agent that we are the number one oatmeal brand in the market, albeit starting from a very small base.” Flahavan’s are also exporting to Japan, Thailand and India, with a small amount of product going to Singapore. “We are looking to develop these and other markets,” he says. “While sales are growing, it isn’t at the same pace as the growth that we are experiencing in the Korean market.” Seven generations of superfood Flahavan’s has been milling locally grown oats and creating wholesome, natural foods for generations of Irish families from their base in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford for over 200 years. The current generation of the business is still very much a family affair, with managing director John Flahavan, his son James, a director of the company who heads up the export side of business, and daughter Annie, who is the financial controller. John’s wife Mary, who passed away in August 2020, played a key role in the business, and now, with the recent birth of James’ son, the business has moved into the eighth generation. Of course, Flahavan’s superfood product is central to the longevity of the business. “The key attribute that allows oats to lay claim to the superfood moniker is the balance between proteins and energy and, in particular, the fact that most oats are gluten-free,” says John. “We produce a gluten-free product, but even our regular product is 99.99% gluten-free, but it can’t be labelled as gluten-free if it contains any wheat seeds. There is also a good fibre level in oats because the outer section of the kernel is oat bran and that is retained within
“We estimate that 70% of our company’s total energy requirements are self-generated on site through our wind turbine, water turbine and solar panels, and we have to make up the balance from the grid.”
the product, whereas with wheat the bran is discarded when it comes to white flours.” According to John, the company has been working on new product development throughout 2020, with a special focus on granolas and flapjacks. “We have been looking at developing functional and more health-related variants within our granola and flapjack ranges and we are also reassessing our packaging. We are happy with the Quick Oats Drum as a packaging format, for example, but we are pro-actively looking at ways to make it more environmentally friendly.” Self-sufficiency – achievements and ambitions One aspect of the sustainability agenda that Flahavan’s have really excelled in is energy generation and usage. “Sustainability has always been a major part of our family business,” says John. “Since the 1780s, when the original waterwheel drove the mill, we’ve been committed to working in harmony with the environment in everything we do. Instead of the original water wheel, we now have a water turbine, so the old mill stream that used to supply the water to the mill wheel is now supplying it to a water turbine and we are getting electricity from that as well. We are using the by-product for our steam. “When it comes to our waste product – the husk of the oats – we sell some of it and we also use some of it in our boilers instead of using oil. In 2015, we installed a 500KW wind turbine to generate electricity and our grain store features solar panels. “We estimate that 70% of our company’s total energy requirements are self-generated on site through our wind turbine, water turbine and solar panels, and we have to make up the balance from the grid. When we have excess electricity, we can sell it back into the grid, but we use most of the energy that we produce.” Another key area for Flahavan’s is around raw materials sourcing. James points out that, while a good portion of Flahavan’s business is in conventional oats, about 30% of their business is organic oats, so there is demand for both in the market. “A lot of what we export is in the organic oats space, and in the UK market we are the number one brand of organic oats,” he says. “We would purchase the entire crop of organic oats that grow in Ireland, process it, mill it and sell it as porridge oats. However, we don’t get enough supply from the island of Ireland, so when we run out of the Irish crop we have to source the remaining organic oats abroad, either from the UK market or from Scandinavia. Part of our Origin Green plan is to become fully self-sufficient in terms of the supply of organic oats for our operations. To that end, we are working with the organic unit in Teagasc to encourage Irish growers to switch from conventional to organics oats. We give farmers pointers and the opportunity to network with their peers. We tell them what our demands are and where we see our market growing. We have been successful in working with farmers so far, and we have gone from having an average of 50 organic suppliers a year for each harvest to about 100 organic suppliers at the harvest last year.”+