Friday 20 April 2018

Donegal man takes a pop at US market with 'artisan' craft soda

Donegal's Football Special
Donegal's Football Special

Brian Byrne

Like many adoptive New Yorkers with a lingering taste for home, 26-year-old Donegal native Seamus McDaid was once a regular visitor to his local delicatessen's Irish foods section.

Living in Woodlawn - a middle-class Irish neighbourhood in the Bronx - it meant he could treat himself to a Club Orange or Barry's Tea whenever homesickness struck.

But for Mr McDaid, there was always a glaring oversight in the tastes of home section: his family's own Football Special - the mixed flavour soft drink made from carbonated Irish water and real sugar, that has been a mainstay in Donegal since 1949.

"It's got a frothy head on it," he told the Sunday Independent, "so when you pour it out it looks like a pint of Smithwick's.

"I thought that if you can buy other Irish products across the pond, then you should be able to buy our brand, too."

Deciding on three of the most popular varieties, including a banana flavour called Smooth Banana and American Ice Cream Soda, the first shipment arrived last Easter.

Seamus McDaid, who is the company's sole employee across the pond, now regularly delivers the product to 'mom and pop' retailers and delicatessens in the Empire State, not forgetting sellers in Irish-American communities in Boston and Philadelphia.

While breaking new territory means he's forced to abandon the reputation McDaid's Beverages has built across four generations in Ramelton, the young entrepreneur said American retailers provide him with a certain candour their Irish counterparts never did.

He says: "One of the things I love about doing it in the States is that I'm really in touch with my retailers. The managers will be brutally honest with me how my product is going.

"Thankfully the feedback so far has mostly been good - but even when I do get negative feedback, it means that I'm able to work on it."

Yet McDaid doesn't market Football Special and its sister sodas as classic Irish staples; the rise in craft beers in the years following the economic crash has provided him with an entirely different unique selling point.

"It's not like Ireland is renowned for its soft drinks. It's not like tea; putting the Irish tricolour around it is not necessarily going to sell it.

"In essence, it is a craft soda, from a small batch production facility. This isn't like Coca Cola, where millions and millions of bottles are produced every week. It's almost artisan in its creation."

In 12 months, McDaid's US operation has netted a modest $25,000 from 50 Stateside retailers, but he insists this wouldn't have been possible without the help of the New York-based Irish Business Organisation.

His intention now is to target the larger, and substantially more lucrative, Hispanic market.

"In the past year, we were just connecting with diaspora who couldn't get our products anymore.

"We're launching in Glasgow, because there's a large contingent of Donegal people there. And we sent our first shipment off to Perth, Australia about six months ago.

"The next stage is to try and spin it into something else.

"One of the ideas I have is to translate the labels into Spanish. They're big soccer fans, and they like sweet tasting products, too. I'm in their wheelhouse."

Sunday Indo Business

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