Caroline Rigney takes us on her journey from farmers' markets to supermarket shelves
Ireland has seen an explosion in the number of artisan food businesses in recent years. Craft producers have been bringing a variety of tasty and innovative foods from farmers markets to supermarkets through programmes such as Supervalu’s Food Academy. The results have set taste buds singing and tills ringing. This boom has also given entrepreneurs like Caroline Rigney the chance to follow their dreams of making it big in the food sector.
Starting up a Food Business
“Launching a food business has been a lifelong ambition of mine. I have been baking since I was knee high to a grasshopper and I wanted to make great food to sell to people. I finally took the plunge and moved with my family from our home in Celbridge to West Limerick, where we opened a rustic farmhouse B&B. The early days of running the B&B were full of challenges. I wanted to give visitors the real farm experience - so we soon had a farmyard full of hens, ducks, geese, and pigs, and we were growing our own vegetables.
All of the food we served was made by hand with ingredients from our farm. Despite the wonderful produce on the breakfast table, I felt my cereals were letting me down, so I began to make my own granola. The key to a great granola is in the ingredients. Most are packed with oats, but mine have a wider variety of ingredients such as goji berries, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds, nut butter, and gluten free oats. My granola is gluten free and while most gluten free granola brands can be very bland, mine is packed with taste. Rigney’s Granola has won 2 star gold at the Great Taste Awards in London, gold at the Listowel Food Fair, and gold at this year’s Blas na hÉireann awards, so I think that speaks for itself in terms of taste.
From Farmers Markets to Supermarkets
I initially sold the granola through my own farm shop, and through farmers’ markets. I eventually made the decision to try and sell my granola through supermarkets. Switching from farmers’ markets to retail came with a learning curve. I had no degree in business or anything like that; so I was learning as I went. I enrolled in a Leap course, and then graduated onto a ‘New Frontiers’ course run by Enterprise Ireland. I learned about things like marketing, product photography, packaging, and barcoding for the first time.
Supervalu’s Food Academy was my next big challenge. If you’re selling at farmers’ markets, there are changes you need to make to your product packaging to get it ready for retail. Your packaging becomes vitally important on the shelves. You’re no longer there to sell in person like you would be at a market. Your packaging has to make that connection with the customer for you. To achieve that, I sat down with Paul Morrissey of Edgewater Design Group, and we designed my packaging to give that sense of homely comfort you’d get staying on my farm. I’m really proud of it.
Getting Retail Ready with a GS1 barcode
No retail product would be complete without a barcode. I was fortunate to have James Burke as a mentor in Food Academy and he pointed me in the right direction from the start. He said that you’d find barcodes in all sorts of places, but he recommended getting my barcodes from GS1 Ireland. They were very helpful and explained everything I needed to know. I’ve heard of other people having issues with barcodes they’ve bought elsewhere, but I’ve never had a problem with mine.
I was 10 years trading at farmers’ markets without a barcode, but I needed one to break into the world of retail. Getting a barcode was a big thing for me. Without it I’m not going to Dublin, London, or anywhere else I want to go with my granola. That’s my access to the rest of the world. I was delighted when I got it, because it meant I was moving on to bigger things with my business.
I’ve found that starting up your own food business is tough, but rewarding. There is a lot to learn, especially when you’re coming from the farmers’ markets like I was. Getting your product into a shop is only the starting point. You have to make sure your product is out on the shelves in a prominent place so the customer can see it. Your packaging has to stand out from the other products. As an artisan producer, you won’t be able to compete on price with the big brands, so you’ll want to convince the customer with the quality of your product. Promotions like in-store tastings and having samples by the till are a great way to introduce your product to consumers.
Advice for new Food Entrepreneurs
The best advice I could give to new entrepreneurs would be to ask for help when you need it. There is a great community of entrepreneurs out there who are very generous with their knowledge. If you need a hand getting started, reach out to your Local Enterprise Office and Enterprise Ireland. They are there to help get your business going, and they do that very well. Remember, you can manage a farmer’s market on your own, but you will need help and advice when taking on the big world of retail.
With Rigney’s Granola already available over a dozen stores in the Munster area, I feel like I’m well on my way to world granola domination. My plan for the coming 12 months is to grow my reach nationally, so you can expect to see Rigney’s Granola coming soon to a supermarket shelf near you.”
Find out more about Rigney’s Granola, by contacting Caroline at firstname.lastname@example.org