Sunday, May 21, 2006

Broadway Bagels Rise To The Superstore Challenge

The Sunday Times

The transition from artisan producer to supplying big chains takes a lot of planning.

Global brands such as Nestlé and Kellogg's may dominate supermarket shelves, but there's still space for new, innovative food companies to push through - if they know how to go about it.

Waterford based Broadway Bagels succeeded by creating a new food item in the form of sliced, frozen bagels.

The company was set up in 2002 when New Yorker Rosie Sheehan and Des, her Irish husband, spotted a gap in the market for Irish bagels.

Initially they set up a bagel bar in Dungarvan but "it was ahead of its time", according to Rosie. When it failed, the duo began supplying cafes and canteens around the country.

When members of the public started asking where they could buy the bagels, the couple knew they had found a market and set about building a brand.

Today Broadway Bagels operates out of a 5,000sq ft unit, employs eight people and makes 10,000 bagels a day, many sold through Tesco, Superquinn and Centra. Right now the company is gearing up for export to Britain and beyond.

"Before setting up in business, I had been working in an office in Manhattan and my husband was in construction, so we had no idea what to expect when it came to trying to get a supermarket listing," said Sheehan.

"We weren't negotiators. We weren't business people. We simply spotted a gap in the market and had absolute confidence in our product."

Their ignorance did them no harm. "We were also in a position where failure simply wasn't an option," she said. "We put all our money into the business."

The decision to ramp up from speciality producer to supermarket supplier is not to be taken lightly, said John Hickey of Hickey & Associates, which helps food businesses make the transition.

"Just 10 years ago the artisan producer would have evolved from supplying small local stores to multinational retailers through a natural process, their systems and capacity expanding gradually to match," said Hickey.

"That is no longer the case. Now the entrepreneur pretty much has to decide at the point of entry which route he or she is going to go."

It is, however, a good time to be an artisan producer looking for a supermarket listing.