Four hens became 200 — I was in business!

EMMA CONNOLLY talks to three women showcasing their artisan products at Cork City Hall this weekend
Four hens became 200 — I was in business!
Caroline Murphy of West Cork Eggs.

SOME 10,000 people are expected to visit the Cork and Kerry Food Market which takes place in City Hall this Friday and Saturday, November 1-2.

More than 70 artisan food and drink producers will showcase their goods. And with Brexit on the horizon, the public are being asked to make an extra effort to support the event.

A survey of more than 400 people has found that 88% believe locally made Irish food and drink products are better for our health and wellbeing. The survey, carried out by the Local Enterprise Offices in Cork and Kerry to coincide with the market, also found that 87% of people make special efforts to seek out and buy Irish-made products.

Of those surveyed, 85% said they are happy to pay more for ethically and sustainably=produced food and drink products, with 53% saying that the amount of packaging on products impacts their buying decisions. Some 73% said they buy more local artisan produce at Christmas time.

The Food Market will celebrate two separate events this year with an after work celebration on Friday for over 18s, which will focus on craft drinks and food pairings with cocktail master classes and master brewer talks from 5pm to 10pm.

The Saturday event will feature more than artisan food and drink producers, as well as cookery demonstrations from a mix of local chefs alongside Kevin Dundon and The Happy Pear, and also children’s entertainment from 10am to 6pm.

We caught up with female food producers who are part of this year’s event to hear the ups, downs and everything in between of life as an artisan food producer in Cork ….


Everyone in Caroline Murphy’s family is entrepreneurial and her own work background spans credit control, customer service, sales, team management, training and recruitment.

And while the Londoner couldn’t have known it at the time, all that diverse experience she garnered helped her with her egg business which started out ‘very organically’. Caroline got her first four hens in 2009 — only because she wanted her kids to know where their food came from.

“What we got was really delicious and fresh eggs that the whole family loved. Family and friends loved them too and I got a few more hens and started tentatively selling them.

Before I knew it, I had 200 hens and I thought, I might have a business here!

“I got my first big customer when I approached Eugene Scally of Scallys SuperValu in Clonakilty and he agreed to sell my eggs.

We then became part of SuperValu’s Food Academy and went through a massive expansion and rebrand and I am glad to say that we now have 300 free range hens and supply 23 SuperValu stores in the Cork area, as well as hotels, restaurants, cafes and independent outlets.”

Caroline’s happy hens have won her a range of industry awards, including a gold and silver at Blas na hEireann Food awards for the last two years.

She runs her business from the family farm outside Rosscarbery, where she lives with her husband, four kids, cats, dogs, cows and of course her hens.

And she’s very much looking forward to the Cork and Kerry Food Market, which she says is great for business.

“It is actually where we launched our new packaging and the feedback was invaluable. It is always great to meet the customers face to face and get their feedback and they love to meet the face behind the product. It’s also a great place to catch up with other producers and meet new ones.”

She admits there are challenges, particular to the food industry and to being self-employed, that she’s had to strive to overcome.

“That’s namely trying to get your products into shops. The Food Academy is supportive but you still have to do a lot of the work yourself and eggs can sometimes be a tough sell.”

But there are far more positives than negatives: “What I love best about being a food producer is when customers come to me and tell me how much they love our eggs, that they remind them of the eggs they ate as a child. Or when they tell me that it is only West Cork Eggs that their family will eat and they know when it’s not one of ours!

“Being self-employed is also great but you have to be very disciplined. We are very lucky as a family as we get to eat our meals together, we can collect the kids from school and spend time together.

“However, as every farmer knows the work is always there and hens do not stop laying at 5pm on a Friday so it is a seven days a week job. You do have to be strict with yourself and be at work when you’re at work and then have your family time.

“I decided to learn any skills that I didn’t have when I started the business and cannot praise the Local Enterprise Office enough for all their support, in the courses they offer and also the mentoring.

“My advice is to always ask for help if you are stuck. Someone out there has been through it before and the help is there.”

As for Brexit, Caroline sees it potentially as an opportunity for small producers: “There could be opportunities for new sales where there might be a gap in the market. I always believe it is so important to support local producers and businesses as much as we can.”

Judy Ratliff of Jude's Chocolates.
Judy Ratliff of Jude's Chocolates.


Artisan chocolate maker Judy Ratliff comes from a long line of female businesswomen — she’s the fifth generation in fact.

She started out making chocolate as a hobby and to meet her own needs as she couldn’t find a dark chocolate that satisfied her own tastes.

There’s also a history of diabetes in her family and she said she wanted healthier options for her ‘sweet hit’.

Originally from Illinois in the U.S, she has been living in Ireland for 30 years and is currently based in Ballydehob.

“My mother and I moved here when I was 15. After years of moving because of my father’s job — he was in the US Air Force d1 moving to Ireland made me feel like I’d found my spiritual home,” she says.

Her first job was working for her mother, making pizzas, which she feels set the foundation for her future food-related careers.

“Most of my jobs have been in the catering world. In 2004 I pursued a degree in Heritage Studies. Even though I deviated from catering for a short spell, it sucked me back in when I started making chocolate as a hobby.”

In the early days she worked from her kitchen table and was selling at Skibbereen Farmers’ Market.

“My business has since grown from strength to strength. My chocolates are on the shelves in Fields of Skibbereen SuperValu. Currently, the hope is to expand to more outlets and to be able to employ one or two people to help with the running of the business.”

Brexit does present some particular fears for Judy: “The bulk of my supplies (chocolate and packaging) come from Britain. I can get around the chocolate issue by ordering from a mainland European supplier, but the difficulty with this is I would have to buy from multiple wholesalers as one would not have all of the diverse variants I use.”

But more positively she’s recently started a Diploma in Speciality Food Production in UCC to enhance her knowledge of food production.

She’s so passionate about what she does that she’s been known to wake up from dreams with an idea for a new chocolate!

Isabelle Sheridan of On the Pigs Back in the English Market and Douglas.Picture: David Keane.
Isabelle Sheridan of On the Pigs Back in the English Market and Douglas.Picture: David Keane.


French-born Isabelle Sheridan says local artisans could be producing the most amazing food, but without a platform to bring it to the consumer, there is no point.

And that’s why Isabelle, who has had her stall On the Pig’s Back in the English Market since 1992, thinks the Cork and Kerry Food Market is so essential.

“It brings the local good food producers to the local consumers. In showcasing local food, you are empowering the consumers to look for more local food, and pushing the supermarket and small shops to include more of it. This event is changing the powering wheel.”

Isabelle initially started selling local Irish farmhouse cheese and importing French artisan cheeses and charcuterie, and went on to launch her own impressive and vast range of pâtés and terrines that were geared towards Irish tastes in 1995.

In 2009, she opened a second retail outlet, On The Pig’s Back, Douglas. What started as a deli with a new production unit soon developed to include a café.

Being an artisan producer in Ireland is an advantage, she feels, as you get the best local ingredients to create amazing products: “Our pates and terrines are made from 99% Irish ingredients (the 1% being brandy and spices).There is great satisfaction in knowing you are offering a very good product, made sustainably, locally, with local ingredients.”

On the flip side, she feels, applying the European and Irish Health & Safety rules to a small artisan business is a challenge, and a huge cost:

“It means there must be enough volume of sales to cover those incurring cost. So being and keeping a small or medium size profitable business is difficult. But you can get help from the LEO agencies, SECAD etc and not only financial, but also a lot of guidance in sales, marketing, management, etc.”

Brexit isn’t looming too large for Isabelle: “Because we are using 99% local ingredients, we should be OK... but there is still the 1%!”

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