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BREAD & BAKING

Three-year investment yields results for Irwin’s Bakery Trading has been challenging but a brand refresh, repositioning of the Rankin Selection Irish Breads range, growth in the GB market and market entry into China have yielded results for Irwin’s Bakery, Chief Executive Michael Murphy tells UG.

HOW HAS THE PAST YEAR OF TRADING BEEN FOR IRWIN’S? Trading in the past year has been challenging with a decline in core bread sales in Northern Ireland yet, in the same period, we have seen growth in the GB market. The pressures facing the bakery industry aren’t different to those felt across the food industry as a whole. Strategic price cuts across staple goods and consumer concerns around health have led to a Northern Ireland bakery market with 6% value sales decline and 1.5m fewer pan loaves sold in the last 12 months, 26

highlighting that lower prices have not been able to bring consumers back to the bread aisles. Growth areas in bakery have come from products that differentiate from the core offering – whether unique in ingredients or surpassing the competition in quality like Irwin’s Softee, which has seen +32% growth. Continued price deflation, reduction in consumption and currency movements in the last year have all impacted on the business; however, with a continued strategic focus on our core consumer, Irwin’s has improved its performance over the year. WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PAST YEAR FOR YOU? The GB morning goods market has been consistently strong throughout the last year. We embarked on a brand refresh and repositioned our award-winning range of Rankin Selection Irish Breads to highlight its health benefits to consumers. Following this activity, the range has seen double-digit growth in the market. We have continued to develop our cake products for the convenience channels, which has seen an increase in our business, and we are forecasting continued growth in this area.

WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS OVER THE PAST YEAR? A key development for the business in November 2015 was Irwin’s market entry into China. We partnered with China Merchant Foods to develop a range of Irish biscuits targeted at the growing affluent middle class in the country. After initial research, we developed a range of flavour combinations specifically for the Chinese pallet and designed a range of packaging that reflected a real sense of Northern Ireland’s culture and heritage. The biscuit boxes are shaped like the iconic hexagonal stones of the Giant’s Causeway – incorporating colours that again through research we knew would appeal to the Chinese market. We are travelling to China again in November to the FHC China 2016 exhibition to work alongside our Chinese partner to further develop our supply base. HAVE YOU INVESTED OR EXPANDED? The business has a three-year strategic investment plan. Initial investment in our IT infrastructure has given Irwin’s the platform to develop our ‘smart bakery’ concept with the introduction of further automation and robotics on our production lines. We also

Profile for Helen Wright

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