WHERE’S there’s outsourcing there’s an opportunity. The Flat Bread Company, based in Clara, started business when an international fast food chain needed to source a key ingredient from a European supplier.
Founders, brothers Kieran and Sean Walsh, together with Niels Ladefoged set up the company in 2008 on the back of that initial contract and it has been expanding steadily since. Both brothers have backgrounds in the food sector; Kieran worked at the Kerry Group for ten years and Sean had been running an artisan bakery in Limerick.
Kieran acknowledges the backing of Enterprise Ireland, which put the company into its High Potential Startup Programme to nurture growing companies with a strong export-focused business. “Enterprise Ireland has been extremely supportive of us. They have a due diligence programme which we found was a real benefit, because it makes you check your figures,” said Kieran.
“You have to be optimistic in setting up a business, but this makes you check,” he added. The company is based in Clara at two adjacent 9,000 sq ft units. While many food service businesses come to rely almost exclusively on supplying major chains, Kieran is aiming for diversification.
“We wouldn’t be here without the support of Domino’s Pizza and we’re grateful for that, but we do need to spread our wings to other channels,” he noted.
To grow further, the Flat Bread Company will look to earn its crust in different markets such as frozen pizzas or sandwiches, so as not to supply customers that are competing with one another.
The company is working on four initiatives for this year – two new markets and two new products – that are aimed at growing revenue and expanding the customer base. The markets are the Middle East and Spain. The former alone could add an additional 15 per cent to the company’s business, Kieran estimates.
The Flat Bread Company is exceeding its sales targets and, in turn, it has added staff faster than expected. Having originally committed to having 15 people by the end of year two, it already has 29 full time employees. The addition of more volume would mean needing to add even more staff, Kieran confirms.
The company has been focusing on improving its processes and production, both to keep quality high and to make efficiencies that can help to offset rising costs. Prices of key ingredients like flour and vegetable oil have risen significantly over the past year, while the tough financial climate has been a drain on management time, Kieran says. “We’re certainly ahead of where we expected to be when we started out, but there are challenges,” he admits.
That’s another reason why diversification is so important. The brothers are finalising a new addition to the product range, which is a fresh tortilla to be sold in Ireland. Initially this was to have been another long shelf life product but rather than copy the competition, the Walsh’s opted to concentrate on quality and freshness.
Early feedback from buyers has been positive, suggesting the company made the right bet. Production is set to begin in two months, initially supplying the food service sector, then the business-to-business market. Later this year The Flat Bread Company will look to begin discussions with retailers about stocking the tortilla.
If all initiatives like this and the move into other markets prove successful, Kieran admits he will have a nice headache of managing capacity. He is reluctant to reveal too many details about the fourth project for now – it’s a secret product, so it’s appropriate that the Flat Bread Company is keeping that one under wrap