Saturday 22 July 2017

Boutique home-baking business grabs a large slice of the market

Catherine Buggy's life-long passion for baking inspired her range of gourmet mixes, which have gone from her kitchen across Ireland and beyond, writes Joanna Kiernan

Catherine Buggy whose successful baking business has taken her to supermarket shelves across the country and abroad after a career change
Catherine Buggy whose successful baking business has taken her to supermarket shelves across the country and abroad after a career change
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Baking fanatic Catherine Buggy was working in Human Resources when she noticed a gap in the market for high-end, gourmet baking mixes.

Three years later, Catherine's award-winning Boutique Bake product range, which includes mixes for carrot cake, Belgian chocolate brownies, lemon drizzle cake, flapjacks and brown bread, is on the shelves in all major Irish supermarkets.

"It was the summer of 2013 when I decided to test out my idea, which was to retail a range of natural, gourmet baking mixes," Catherine said. "I have always loved baking, but I felt there hadn't been much movement in the home baking market for a number of years and that there was definitely a gap there for a fun, engaging brand and a really high-quality product.

"The cupcake was having a real moment at that time and there was a lot happening in the ready-made scene, but when I looked at home-baked goods I knew there was a gap; there wasn't anything very premium available in that space and that is where I felt I could do something different to what was on offer."

"I had been working in HR for three years and I suppose I had a bit of an early twenties crisis; I loved food, but I thought HR was my career and that was it," Catherine added.

"But then when the idea for the mixes came, I thought 'I am young and I have a really good idea, so why not give it a go?'"

Catherine worked hard in her spare time to develop her products and began selling them at markets on the weekends.

"After three months, I got an email from Tesco saying that they were interested in the product, so that was a bit of a turning point and it led me to think 'OK, I really have something here'. I left my job then and started working on the business full-time," Catherine said.

"Baking was just something that I have grown up with. I always thought that everyone baked and it wasn't until I got older that I realised not everyone does.

"It was something that was just really big in my family and I have just always had a real love for it. It was a nice natural fit for me and it was something that I already had an interest in, so when the idea for the business came along I put everything into it."

Catherine soon learned that she would have to scale her business up fast in order to capitalise on the attention retailers were paying to her products. "When I first started talking to the likes of Tesco, I was making the products from home, which isn't really suitable," Catherine said. "So based on their advice - and I also met with Bord Bia at the time - I realised that the next step is to outsource. I wasn't from a food-manufacturing background so it definitely was a big learning curve for me.

"I started meeting with various manufacturers and it was I suppose a 'fake it until you make it' type of situation," Catherine added. "I didn't have any big orders, but I believed that I would and I did have that interest from the multiples. So I found a manufacturer in Ashbourne, who I have been working with for the last two years and that has allowed the business to grow.

"It went straight from my house to a really large mill with loads of capacity, so that has definitely helped in terms of being able to scale up quickly and being able to supply the three major multiples in Ireland."

Today Boutique Bake products are stocked in over 250 stores across Ireland, including SuperValu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco and a number of smaller independent retailers.

"We launched a health range in the summer, which is gluten free and refined-sugar free and that has added on a second range to the products and has opened up a whole new market for us now," Catherine said.

"So we are targeting health food stores too through that and we are selling a lot online through our website as well. It is very exciting to have that new customer come on board now also."

Boutique Bake launched into Northern Ireland last September and is also now stocked in Planet Organic, which has seven stores in the London area.

"We are targeting the independent stores in the London region at the moment because I think the market there is so big that if we can get London right and grow from there, then that could be really interesting for us," Catherine said.

"Our products are also available in France, Germany and Sweden as well. They are a dry product so there is huge export potential and that aspect is really exciting."

"So far we have had support from Dublin City Local Enterprise Office and they have been great," Catherine added.

"I was lucky enough to get a priming grant from them in the very early stages, which helped me to do things like getting the packaging right and they have been really supportive.

"Bord Bia have been really supportive as well and I'm hoping then to start liaising with Enterprise Ireland more now over the next year as we start to really focus on the export markets.

"The next year is going to be really big for us in terms of rolling out our gluten-free range and getting that nationwide here in Ireland as well as focusing on the UK and overseas markets.

"It will be a really exciting year, but I suppose the important thing for me is planning it all and making sure that we can execute things well and are able to support the product overseas, which will be a challenge."

Catherine's personality is an integral part of the Boutique Bake brand and she works hard to maintain a presence on social media as well as regular video tutorials on the Boutique Bake YouTube channel.

"From very early on I decided that I was going to put a little picture on the pack and that I was going to tell my story," Catherine said.

"That was done very much to differentiate my product range from my competitors in the marketplace, which are these massive companies. I think people like transparency with their food; they like to know where it comes from and who is behind it. So from the really early stages I put up my picture on the packaging and my email out there so if anyone had any questions or wanted to get in touch, they could do that.

"I wanted to be an approachable and open brand and I think that is something that has really resonated with people.

"With social media now people love to know what is going on, so we do a lot of baking videos and show people behind the scenes of all that goes into getting a product on the shelves on Snapchat and Instagram. That is a really fun part to the business."

www.boutiquebake.ie

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