WATCHING THE COOKIE CRUMBLE Lisa McCann and her husband James at their home in Louisburgh. The couple’s business is Clew Bay Cookies.
I’M typically up at 7am to get the school run in before I begin my day’s work.
Then I would start my delivery rounds first thing, leaving Louisburgh through Murrisk and on into Sligo and Roscommon. We deliver our chocolate chip cookies to 45 stores and distribution is all done by my husband, James, and I, which can be very time consuming.
On another day we might do a stocktake or head off to the bakery which is in Charlestown.
When we first moved over from America to raise our kids in Ireland and when we started Clew Bay Cookies, we used to bake them in our kitchen at home. But as the volume of our product increased we soon had to outsource the production due to HSE restrictions. When you pass a certain volume of product they say that there is no way you can keep it under control in your own kitchen.
As small food producers it can be very difficult to find bakeries that will take on a relatively small volume, they want to be producing pallets of product and for that you need really, really high sales which we don’t have the resources for.
So when we are there we help out the 11 staff as much as we can, because there is no way two people could bake the amount of cookies we need.
It can be very difficult in the food industry for small food producers like ourselves trying to manage with distribution, margins and growing your brand in chains.
For a while we considered investing in our own bakery in Louisburgh, but as a small food producer it just wasn’t feasible because you needed outside investment and that was a big risk.
After great advice from the local enterprise office we decided to outsource the baking and we were lucky to find one like we did.
But a huge part of doing that is quality control.
If you give your recipe to someone else and they start producing a bigger amount, the quality of the product might be lost, so James and I make sure to always test the quality of our cookies.
And to be honest we have very high standards too when it comes to that because it took us four months to perfect our recipe for our cookie.
It was James’ family recipe from the USA, but that can be just too rich for Irish people and we tried all different recipes to get it right.
We wanted to base Clew Bay Cookies on the American style cookie but make it more gourmet.
Another problem with that is, and we have been told by many top professionals, that we are killing ourselves with our shelf life. They say we should use preservatives and additives to increase our shelf life to one year, but I know one thing, James and I wouldn’t want to eat a cookie that is one year-old!
The other side of the coin is that sometimes you are made wait over 120 days to get paid, and as a small business that can be very tough.
Some days I would very happily take my nine-to-five banking job back that I left in America, because we never sit down.
But there is some great positives in running your own business. You’re building a brand and the experience we have gained in the last two years is huge.
Often we’re up until 11.30pm filing through stuff which we’ve done for the last three years.
As a small business you’re always planning ahead, ensuring you have a sale strategy, adding new products etc.
You can try and plan your days but something always gets thrown in the middle. Today I got a call from Westport House who want to sell our cookies in their shop and that is great news, it exposes our brand to more tourists.
We’ve just launched our new venture, which is a mobile catering unit called ‘The Sweety Wagon’, so keep an eye out for us.
We have had unbelievable support from the communities of Louisburgh and Westport. They’re beautiful towns with so much potential in the tourism and food industry.
In conversation with Ger Flanagan