Thursday 27 October 2016

The young HR manager who left the office job behind to pursue her half-baked brainwave

My big idea...

Published 26/11/2015 | 02:30

'We are also popular with people who want to pass off our mixes as their own baking,' says Catherine Buggy (27).
'We are also popular with people who want to pass off our mixes as their own baking,' says Catherine Buggy (27).

Catherine Buggy (27), from Clonskeagh in Co Dublin, is the founder of Boutique Bake, a manufacturer of high-end cake mixes.

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"I previously worked in HR for an online recruitment business. While I liked my old job, I have always loved food and cooking - particularly baking - and was keen to make my passion my career.

I set my company up in 2013 from my home in Donnybrook. Baking was suddenly back in fashion as the country recovered from the worst of the recession; cupcakes were huge all of a sudden and there was lots of innovation in the ready-made market. But nothing had changed in the at-home category.

It was still the same established brands doing the same thing. I spotted a gap in the market for luxury, high quality baking mixes without any artificial flavours, additives or preservatives.

Through trial and error I developed a couple of different mixes and started testing them out in farmers markets at the weekends.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response - there was a clear demand.

Selling at farmers' markets was a fantastic way to get feedback on the mixes straight away; cupcakes mix, for example, surprisingly didn't sell, so I discontinued it early on.

After three months I decided to leave my old job. It was clear I was on to something.

My first supermarket stockist was SuperValu, followed soon after by Tesco. I took part in Supervalu's Food Academy programme, which prepares you for moving into supermarkets by testing the product in local stores first.

As orders began to come in it quickly became apparent that I would have to outsource manufacturing. Choosing a manufacturer was one of the biggest challenges; I don't have a background in food so wasn't sure what I was looking for. But having gone through several options I settled on a manufacturer in Ashbourne, Co Meath, who has been fantastic.

The line now includes five products - chocolate brownie mix, lemon drizzle cake mix, carrot cake mix, flapjack mix and a brown bread.

I have had a lot of enquiries about gluten-free mixes so am looking into bringing out a gluten-free line next year. Today Boutique Bake employs two people full time and two people part time. Our products are stocked in almost 200 shops including 60 SuperValu stores, 47 Tesco Stores and 50 Dunnes stores in Ireland as well as gourmet stores such as Blarney Woollen Mills and Vikki's Old Post Office in Cork and Donnybrook Fair and Mortons in Dublin.

In July we began exporting and are now available in France and Switzerland. Because it is a dried product it is a lot easier to export than fresh food so there is a lot of scope for export growth. We have all sorts of customers but our biggest buyers are mothers with kids, who want to bake but might be short on time, and are also very conscious of what they and their family are eating.

We are also popular with people who want to pass off our mixes as their own baking - everything tastes homemade, that was the aim, so once you hide the packaging nobody will be any the wiser."

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