Showcasing the best of Galway food

Galway Advertiser journalist Caroline Whelan meets Galway Food Company founder Clare Colohan

Loughrea based mother-of-seven is going from strength to strength. Although just over nine months in business, products from the Galway Food Company are now being stocked in 220 stores nationwide.

The business was set up by Clare Colohan while she was on a career break and from small beginnings will employ five people by the end of this month, with more jobs coming on stream next year.

It is no major surprise that The Galway Food Company has been such a success with Clare Colohan at the helm. She holds a degree in business and marketing and worked in high-profile sales and marketing roles for companies including IBM, Rank Xerox, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.

It was while she took time out of the workforce to raise her seven children and that she noticed a gap in the market for a premium food brand from Galway. “My sister lives in Chicago and my brother in Australia, I was looking for something to bring from Galway, and it struck us as a family many times that there was not a huge range of things that you could bring back which had the ‘Galway brand’. Last summer there was a study done by NUIG, which noted that there was a lack of food brands associated with Galway. When I read that I literally came up with the idea for The Galway Food Company.”

The entrepreneurial gene came from her father, who had a number of food businesses. “I didn’t enter the food business blind. We were kind of reared around food and sales. We would have been out selling with him when we were younger and taking orders and things like that so we knew a bit about the business. I’m of the attitude that you play to your strengths, and my mum and dad would have always said that to me as well, but don’t get me wrong, I am still learning every day.”

Sweet treats using local ingredients

It was decided that shortbread would be the company’s first product as Clare had been making the biscuits for years, which always went down a treat. “When I was at home with the kids I trained as a reflexologist and a natural juice therapist, so I would have a big interest in holistic and natural ingredients. Lavender and seaweed are both things I would use a lot in juices. Shortbread happened to be a family recipe so we decided to dip our toe into the market. I started to play around with some local ingredients and just by coincidence I went into McCambridges and told them about the product. They were really encouraging, and it took off from there.”

The ethos of the company is to give a platform to some of the west of Ireland’s natural ingredients. She officially launched the company’s All Butter Shortbread in November last year, and there are currently four varieties of ten pack boxes including Connemara Seaweed, Galway Bay Lavender, Irish Classic, and Rich Chocolate.

The shortbread, which is produced from a bakery in Galway, has been nothing short of a massive hit, and is now stocked in nearly 220 stores nationally. As Clare is a graduate of the SuperValu/Bord Bia Food Academy, this includes 75 SuperValus as well as artisan food stores, tourist outlets and hamper companies. Locally, the brand is also stocked in Joyce’s supermarkets across the county, Standún, and in Morton’s of Galway. Since the initial launch, the company is now producing a two-pack offering for the hospitality industry, which was launched at the Ploughing Championships last month. The company is currently exporting to Northern Ireland and is launching in the UK next year.

On the up

She does not seem in any way blown away by the pace of the success, and you sense it is not a big surprise to her. She pays tribute to the expertise of her brother Martin who has been a huge asset to the business and now works as sales director. His contacts in the sales industry have proved immensely helpful as he had more than 15 years FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods ) experience with Nestle Ireland. “I would be very focused in terms of where we are heading. I am very visionary, I can tell you exactly where we will be at the end of next year, and the year after. People say ‘follow your dream’ but you have to strategise where you are going. This has to be broken down into little steps.”

The great thing about her business now is that she is not only involved in the selling of her product, she is also manufacturing it. “For a long time, I suppose it was a case of making sales for big companies, but now we are making sales for ourselves. It is certainly a different environment, but a stimulating one and I am loving the challenges involved with it.”

Clare is at pains to emphasise the company is about a lot more than shortbread and there are plans in the pipeline to create a number of other products, including a gluten free range.

People may recognise the entrepreneur from her turn on the RTE show Dragons Den, which was broadcast in May. She says it was an amazing experience. “All five Dragons loved it. It was brilliant PR, you couldn’t have bought it. From that I got a mentorship from East Coast Bakehouse founder Alison Cowzer, and we have worked really well together. That opened the door to working with Bord Bia, which was a great boost. Indeed last month we were invited by Bord Bia to showcase at the Speciality Food Fair in the Olympia in London. That was huge for us as it is a worldwide trade show. It’s not just geared for the UK market, but we have contacts now made in the UAE, and America. Because the brand has such a strong export potential there was a huge amount of interest.”

She admits that they ‘have definitely hit on something’ and the company will have a record first year turnover.

It is fair to say that the sky is the limit for the Galway Food Company.

Watch this space.


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