IrishFood speaks to Coolhull Farm managing director, Barry Murphy, about how its range of premium desserts is meeting new sector needs and consumer trends
Article appeared in issue 2, 2021
Coolhull Farm was founded in 1990 by Tomás Murphy when he began making ice cream using the milk from his dairy farm in Co. Wexford. The company now produces a range of premium ice cream and baked and dairy desserts, and Tomás’s son Barry is at the helm.
Barry recalls: “The company was founded by my father as an additional enterprise for his dairy farm when the milk quota was in place. He built up a relationship with foodservice distribution companies and over the years we expanded into bakery and various dessert products. Now, we produce a full range of frozen dessert products for foodservice, and we have pivoted into retail convenience and quick-serve restaurants (QSR). We have a strong emphasis on making ingredients from scratch as opposed to buying in and assembling things, and that’s a big part of our value proposition.”
Food sustainability and security are growing concerns, and Barry believes that making their own ingredients and sourcing supplies locally appeals to both buyers and consumers alike. “Traceability is very important. The generations of consumers that are coming through now are more interested in where their food is coming from and the story behind it. We’ve spent a long time working on making our own ingredients which we started during the last economic downturn as a way of keeping employment in the factory in Wexford.
“We used to buy in biscuit crumbs from the UK and that involved a huge amount of transport and packaging. We were able to reduce that significantly by buying the raw materials and making it ourselves locally. We used to buy in all our cream cheese, and it came in cardboard boxes with plastic liners. We had to decant all of those and there was a lot of food waste. We have a completely different footprint now on the ingredient integration piece. We still make our ice cream with milk from our family farm, and now we use it to make cream cheese for cheesecakes and bake our own biscuits for the bases. Our apple line of products – pies, crumbles, caramel apple products – are all made with Bramley apples from orchards in Co. Armagh, which we couple with our own pastry that we make from scratch.”
Barry continues: “Our family story is a natural selling strategy for us, and we use that to our advantage, but you also have to have a good product. Those natural resources and ingredients become a product, and it has to do a job for the customer, whether that’s a foodservice operator in contract catering, hotels, restaurants or business and industry.”
Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) has been an ongoing source of support to the family company, he says. “Bord Bia has been fantastic for our business. Our main export markets are the UK, Germany, Holland, the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Denmark and Sweden, and those customers have all come from trade shows, largely facilitated by Bord Bia. For small to medium companies like ours to attend a trade show like Anuga helps build that market connection for us. The virtual show is a great example of Bord Bia trying to recreate that bridge that is lost due to the pandemic.”
At the virtual sourcing event, Coolhull Farm is eager to showcase its capabilities to the QSR and retail convenience sector. “We’ve launched a new line of ice cream cookie sandwiches and we’re seeing a lot of potential in that area. It is a very good example of our two capabilities – the dairy plant for ice cream and cheesecake production, and the bakery for cake and cookie production – and we are able to combine these quite uniquely. That’s a big differentiator because we can make a product from scratch.”
Barry believes it fills a need within QSR chains. “It’s an ideal product for quick-serve restaurants because the product is foil-wrapped, there is portion control, and because it’s freezer-to-eat, there is no waste. The last thing they want to do is make dessert. We are following trends that we are seeing in the US and markets globally for these new hand-held treats and snacks and we’ve invested heavily in equipment to allow us to scale up to meet the volumes needed by high-demand customers.”
Quality, he says, is more important than quantity. “We’re trying to position ourselves a little bit above in quality than what we see in the market generally, and we are not interested in commodity-size volumes. We prefer to supply really high-quality products that are branded premium for our operators.”
Another of the company’s new launches – Yummy cheesecakes – meets demand from an emerging audience. “We see interest now in recreating the restaurant experience at home and we think that’s going to be a long-standing trend. Yummy products are a conversion of our foodservice cake offering into a retail take-home pack. It is seven portions instead of 14 and it’s pre-sliced. The product is restaurant-quality and size. We were selling it through our foodservice distribution chain, and we’ve since launched it in major multiples.”
This is just one of the changes he has seen brought about by the pandemic, the other is in foodservice buying patterns. “We saw it last summer when the country opened up: in-house dessert making was gone. Everyone had scaled down their staff and pastry chefs were probably victims of that. There were people buying in desserts that never did before. It grew the size of the domestic market massively. We think that providing products that do that job for people is going to be more and more important and we have to provide a level of quality that they are happy with.”
Pivoting to meet the new needs of a Covid-19 world has been helped by the funding and supports offered by the government, Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, he says: “It gives you the confidence to keep going. We reacted quickly and started developing all of these different products immediately. It has made us quicker in our cycles, in new product development and better at decision making. All those skills have been forcefully honed. I think the food industry in Ireland is developing capabilities now that will serve the country well in times to come.”