Mella’s sweet success story

Mella McAuley, Confectioner, Mella’s Fudge tells us about her career to-date
Mella’s sweet success story
Mella McAuley of Mella's Fudge

Name: Mella McAuley.

Age: 47.

Lives: Courtmacsherry, Co Cork.

Job title: Confectioner, Mella’s Fudge.

Salary bracket: Enough to be able to live and be self-employed in West Cork!

Education background: Ard Scoil Phobal Bantry, BA in Communications (DCU), Post Grad in Video Production (GMIT).

Hobbies: Gardening — flowers and veg, cooking, eating out, and reading.

Describe your job in five words: Satisfying, challenging, creative, diverse, fulfilling.

Describe yourself in five words: Optimistic, stubborn, ambitious, level-headed, flexible.

Personality needed for this kind of work? Problem-solving, optimistic, calm under pressure and hard-working.

How long are you doing this job? 13 years.

How did you get this job? My mother loved fudge so we always made it at home, every weekend we would try a different recipe to try and get it absolutely right. When we were happy with it, I started selling a tray of plain fudge to the local sweet shop, Mrs McAuliffes in Bantry, that was when I was around 15 just after Inter Cert.

After school I went to DCU in Dublin and did a degree in Communications, doing video, photography and radio, worked in that for a while, and then switched to managing a cheese shop in Dublin, Sheridans Cheesemongers.

I really enjoyed that job, but after a while I realised that I wanted to work for myself and having worked in the food industry I realised that there wasn’t any good fudge on the market that was old-fashioned, crumbly and buttery like I used to make as a child, so I moved back to Bantry and that’s when the business started!

I started doing the Friday market in Bantry, and went out to Mannings Emporium where Val was delighted to be my first stockist. That was it, I was hooked, and went on to expand on flavours and approaching other shops in West Cork, and then Dublin.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? I suppose apart from a knowledge of fudge-making, you really need to be passionate about the product — to want people to taste it because it is the best fudge you believe is on the market. That really is essential, as there are very hard days when you are struggling with cash flow, or have a machine breaking down, and then you get an email from a customer in Florida who tells you they got a present of the fudge and it reminds them of their granny as she used to make fudge like ours, and it really is that that keeps you going.

Apart from that, experience in working in different areas as you need to learn to adapt to all kinds of situations, from designing packaging to packing a pallet!

Describe a day at work: Every day is different, but generally I do emails and cash flow first thing, then check orders and ingredients, pack a pallet, or do local deliveries.

In the summer I might be setting up a stall at a market. I’ve been creating fudge exclusively for Dunnes Stores Simply Better Collection since 2015, so we may be working on product development for them, or a member of the Simply Better team may visit the kitchen, so really, anything is possible!

How many hours do you work a week? Between 45 and 84, depending on the season, autumn tends to be our busiest time of year, from the middle of September on, as people love to have fudge around the Christmas season, so it’s all hands on deck. Up to a year ago we did a range of pouches for the Simply Better range that mainly sold the six months around Christmas, but now we are doing a range of three bars too, that is extended across the year, which is a fantastic backbone for our business. The quieter time of the year is February and March, when we look at product development and sales, both at home and for export.

What do you wear to work? Comfortable clothing — if I’m not in the office then I’m on the kitchen floor, so what I wear needs to be adaptable to different situations. I always keep a jacket in the van in case I need to meet a supplier or customer at short notice.

Is your industry male or female dominated? Probably mainly female.

Does this affect you in any particular way? No.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: It can be. I would say managing cash flow is the hardest aspect of it because you need to be always ready for issues that arise, whether it’s a machine breaking down, or the need to buy packaging every couple of months, and the need to have funds to cover wages for staff on a weekly basis. And then to keep on top of VAT and PRSI. On average, stress-wise, I would say it is 7/10.

Do you work with others or on your own? There are three of us in the business. I worked on my own for a long time, just bringing in part- time people when I was really busy. Now Daisy and Aisling work full-time in the business, as the volume has grown a lot over the last few years, between the Simply Better contract and getting into a lot more shops using different distributors. We also do some export to the UK and Europe, and that is an area we would like to expand more into.

It’s really great to be able to support the local economy by hiring local staff.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? Who knows, you never know what’s around the corner!

Best bits: Being able to live and work in a place I love, with great people. Being in control of what I do with my time and most importantly seeing people enjoy the fudge, particularly as it’s the same recipe that I developed with my mother all those years ago.

Worst bits: Very long hours at times with lots of cleaning and worrying about cash flow, although with collaborations like that with Simply Better, that has taken some of the pressure off, which is most welcome!

Advice to those who want your job? Be very sure of all the costs of setting up, and the need for investment in the business. Make sure to think global, which means that design and packaging needs to work for Ireland and abroad from the beginning.

Any other comments? Little did I think when I was supplying Mrs McAuliffe back in the ’80s that I would be now employing staff to supply shops across the country with the same fudge! A dream come true!

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