DUNMANWAY-based West Cork Biscuit Co was established 20 years ago, in 2003, by Richard Graham and his wife Jane.
The duo raised their business from a kitchen table enterprise selling at a local farmers’ market to supplying 150 SuperValu stores across the country with their handmade biscuits.
In 2010, Ger Devin joined the business and now, as Richard and Jane lean into a well-earned retirement, Ger is stepping up as CEO ready to secure future success for the business where local is a key ethos.
In 2015, West Cork Biscuit Co joined the SuperValu Food Academy and has been working with the retailer ever since. It has been a fruitful and engaging partnership for West Cork Biscuit Co, ensuring a future for the brand in a rural market town and employing 35 people living in or near Dunmanway.
This year, its Belgian Chocolate Chip cookies have been selected by Musgrave SuperValu to be one of only five “Guest Stars” of a new Taste of Local in-store campaign, spotlighting great local producers supplying stores countrywide.
I caught up with Ger Devin to learn more about the bakery’s story and their future plans.
Assigned to West Cork Biscuit Co in 2010, while working for the enterprise board, Ger quickly found himself up to his elbows in cookie dough at Richard and Jane’s small “bakery up the hill” in Dunmanway.
“The second day I met them, I was in their little bakery baking biscuits and putting them into plastic trays. That was my introduction to it,” he recalls.
“The bakery was on one side of the yard, but you had to run across it to get to the packing area. If the rain hit the biscuits, you couldn’t pack them, so you’d hope to God it wouldn’t rain!”
Ger became more involved with the business; growth was slow and steady and soon it was time to relocate to a large bakery down the hill and in the town, where their biscuits were made on contract to Richard’s exacting standards.
“For one thing,” Ger recalls, “we couldn’t get a truck up the road, so even if we could produce a pallet of biscuits, we couldn’t deliver them anywhere!”
In moved the bakery, and on the road went Ger and Richard drumming up new business.
“Richard knew Kevin Sheridan [of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers] of old and they are great foodies. We were talking to him about making a brown bread cracker for cheese with great Irish ingredients – Irish flour, local butter and eggs from a farmer down the road from the bakery.
“We came out of that meeting with Kevin, sat in the car and started high-fiving – we had the deal, it was over the line, we were delighted with ourselves. The business was going to start growing.”
But, almost immediately, disaster struck.
“On the way back down from Meath, our baker called me and said he was closing the bakery. We had a business in one hand and no business in the other, but we knew we couldn’t turn back.”
Another phone call to an old contact in the Enterprise Board lead to a meeting with a landlord of a premises in Lisavaird, near Clonakilty, just a couple of days later. By this stage, the oven and sheeter had been moved out of the Dunmanway bakery and was winging its way down the road on the back of a truck.
“I met with the landlord, and he asked when do we want to move in? I said there’s a forty-foot truck coming around the corner in a few minutes with a sheeter on it: Could we move in now?”
The beauty of a rural business, Ger says, is that within two hours plumbers, electricians and an oil tanker were on site to make everything happen.
“People were coming from everywhere to give a hand,” he recalls.
With that, Richard and Ger went back to making every biscuit by themselves again, by hand – a vital detail that, even as the business has grown over time, has never changed.
“In Lisavaird, we were able to keep the business going. It was a small unit, and we were falling over ourselves because the oven took up most of the space, but we had great fun down there for a couple of years.”
And what of that contract with Sheridan’s Cheesemongers to produce Brown Bread Crackers?
“We got the contract from Sheridan’s, and we’ve been working with them ever since that day. We’ve been with them through thick and thin and have a really lovely business relationship with them.”
By 2013, they were moving back into their original bakery in Dunmanway, and in 2022 West Cork Biscuit Co bought the premises outright.
“It took us a week to get our first pallet out, now we can produce a pallet a day. That’s how far we’ve come in the past ten years,” says Ger.
Moving back into a larger premises and growing the team of employees allowed Ger and Richard to think about expansion again, and in 2015 they applied to Musgrave SuperValu’s Food Academy programme.
“We’ve always found Musgraves to be very helpful. We started out suppling twenty of their stores, and now we’re in 150 – although I won’t be happy until I’m in all of them!” Ger says.
Supplying a big retailer like Musgraves isn’t easy but, he says, show willing and opportunities will come.
“The toughest job in retail is not getting into a store, it’s holding that shelf space. That means visiting stores on a regular basis, chatting to people, packing shelves with our product, getting feedback from customers, doing tastings, and taking feedback to the bakery to see what we can do with that. Sometimes, feedback might be about branding, packaging or the taste of the product.
“We get a lot of help and advice from Musgraves; the team have been absolutely brilliant. They won’t give it to you on a silver platter but show them you’re keen and they’ll help you along the way. That’s how we find golden opportunities for even more business.”
Part of that success is being humble enough to know what you’ve got might not always be a good fit.
“Our product doesn’t work in every store – we’re not Coca Cola, but we have customers that love our biscuits and those that don’t. We’ve got to take that on the chin, not get too caught up about it but go back out there and find out what they do like and see if we can change that into something that does work for them.”
Ger says being named as one of the Guest Stars for SuperValu’s Taste of Local Campaign will only bolster the biscuit brand.
“For the brand, it’s more exposure; for the business, it’s about finding new opportunities to keep growing. For the campaign, we could only select our Belgian Chocolate Chip cookie, but we have six different biscuits in our range.
“Get one product in, the door is now open for me to showcase everything else we do.”
What they do is quality handmade biscuits. Who they are is a local business employing local people and supporting local farmers.
“We have 35 people employed in the business: that’s 35 families earning a living. When Richard made the decision to step back from the business, his priority was about keeping this going into the future.”
The future for West Cork Biscuit Co is more of that slow, steady expansion. But for all the laid-back speed of growth, there is no shortage of energy and ambition.
“The future for us is about growing steadily. Now we own our own site, we want to grow capacity and do more with the business, but it’s also about making sure our customers are happy.
“You’re not going to build your business in one day, it’s gradual, slow and you keep building. To keep doing that is half the battle.”
West Cork Biscuit Co handmade biscuit varieties include Belgian Chocolate Chip, Coffee and Walnut with Chocolate Chip, Hazelnut and White Chocolate with Coconut Flakes, Ginger Spice, and Oat and Raisin. Find in SuperValu stores across the country, or buy online at www.regale.ie