The Dunnes Stores Simply Better range has a well-deserved reputation for award-winning food and drink. Behind the scenes it also champions small Irish producers, helping them to grow while doing what they do best.
This month we spoke to Ann Rudden of Áine Hand Made Chocolate which provides Dunnes Stores Simply Better with a range of chocolate products all year round as well as artisan Easter eggs at this time of year.
Master chocolatier Ann Rudden had always known she wanted to start her own business and in 1999 she did just that, setting up Áine Hand Made Chocolate in Co Cavan. At first they mostly worked in the corporate world but within a few years they developed a retail range too. “We realised that we needed to get a brand and get into retail,” Ann explains, “so we launched our brand ourselves in 2001”.
A long-standing relationship with the Dunnes Stores Simply Better collection soon followed. “We’ve
been working with Dunnes Stores for a long time now - almost from the very start of the Simply Better
collection,” Ann says. “It started with the chocolate bars and it has worked up to the hot chocolate stir sticks and we’ve done Simply Better Easter eggs for the last three years now too.”
Áine Hand Made Chocolate makes an array of products for Simply Better all year round. “We do various large Belgian chocolate bars including a milk 38 per cent cocoa bar and a plain dark bar with 70 per cent cocoa and we do a mint and orange bar too,” Ann explains. There is also a range of hot chocolate sticks that you can add to a cup of milk and stir. “They’re very popular,” Ann says.
Of particular note is the Single Origin chocolate range which features a Colombian milk chocolate bar with 38 per cent cocoa, a plain dark 80 per cent cocoa bar and a dark raspberry bar. “I went to Colombia four years ago and met all the farmers. It was one of the best trips that I have ever been on,” Ann says. “It’s so interesting because of the flavours that come out of different beans. Sometimes you have mixed beans in a specific chocolate whereas with single origin the flavour profile is more distinct.”
She also notes that the cocoa used in the Simply Better products is more sustainable, with money going back into the farmers’ local areas. “It goes into projects to teach farmers how to grow better crops and it also goes into things like schools in the areas around the cocoa farms.”
It’s hard to discuss chocolate at this time of year and not give a mention to Easter eggs. Luckily, Ann and the team also supply an artisan range of Easter eggs to the Simply Better collection. “We do a Handmade 38 per cent cocoa Single Origin Colombian Milk Chocolate Egg with salted caramel chocolates and then we have a 70 per cent cocoa Single Origin Colombian Dark Chocolate Egg with dark salted caramel,” Ann says.
“Every single one of the Easter eggs we do for Simply Better is hand-poured and has a thick chocolate shell. Then they’re spun and cooled and we hand foil them. And then the chocolates that go with them are hand moulded, hand piped with the salted caramel and packed into little boxes. So everything we do is handmade - they’re made in small batches and they’re made really fresh as well.”
The relationship between Áine Hand Made Chocolate and Dunnes Stores has been a fruitful one, Ann says. “Dunnes Stores have been very good to us from the start. They give us good lead times and they work with us as well. They understand that we’re a small company but there are also great opportunities for us to grow with them as well.
“We’re looking to expand our business this year so Simply Better will be part of that expansion plan as well. We’re already doing new product development with them. We’re a small company in a rural village so it’s great to be working with Simply Better because it does give us that volume and hopefully down the line we can progress our company as well.”
As the business changes and expands Ann is careful to balance the demands of being a business owner with the joy of her first love: chocolate. “From a very young age, I always wanted to work with chocolate and I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “It’s not just me now - we have a team here and as the business develops, the team is developing. I love that we’re getting bigger and it’s still the same staff. “I still have that love for the chocolate and the product development,” she is quick to add. “I’m on the floor working with chocolate every day, I still have a passion for that as well.” And her own favourite from the Simply Better range? “The dark chocolate is very popular but I have to say I love the orange chocolate,” she laughs. “it’s very nice.”
Brought to you in partnership with Dunnes Stores Simply Better