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 chat to Siobhán Lawless of Foods of Athenry about grabbing opportunities and creating Christmas memories with mince pies.
Siobhán Lawless had studied IT in college but when she fell in love with a farmer, life took a different direction. She became a farmer’s wife to husband Paul - and a good one at that. However, agriculture was a challenging world and in 2004, the pair made a baking side business their main focus. It did well but in 2011 a fire destroyed a new factory building in a devastating blow for the family. “We were closed for a year or two until we got to a point where we could put ourselves back out there,” Siobhán says. “Part of the strategy then was to establish relationships with retailers and do some really nice products for them.”
There was good news in 2013 when a partnership with Dunnes Stores Simply Better was offered. “They asked us if we would be interested in doing granolas for them and it was just the right opportunity at the right time. So we developed two granolas and they worked really well.”
In the seven years Foods of Athenry has worked with Dunnes Stores the range has expanded to eight products including two new mueslis which have just launched in stores. Quality ingredients are essential and Irish oats are used in the granola and the muesli. “One part is the quality but the other part is sustainability,” Siobhán says, adding, “We’re part of Bord Bia’s Origin Green which has a charter for sustainable production and supports Irish producers.”
Describing Dunnes Stores as “a pleasure” to work with, Siobhán explains that Dunnes gives artisan Irish producers the space to work to their best. “Dunnes Stores has built the Simply Better brand into a premium must-have brand by working closely with producers and giving them the space to do what they do best: create good food.”
While the new mueslis are the latest additions - and Siobhán’s personal favourite (“I think the Fruit and Nut Muesli is amazing. There are some cool ingredients and a really interesting fruit and nut mix.”), this time of year is all about the Award Winning Handmade All Butter Christmas Mince Pies, made with Irish butter. “The pies have proven extraordinarily popular and they’ve won a number of awards,” Siobhán says. “Two years ago they won the Christmas Gold Q award at the Irish Quality Food Awards, which means they won Christmas, basically! We sell a lot of pies, probably around 400,000, and each of those are hand-filled and stars are hand-cut, painted with an egg wash and placed on the top so it’s a lot of work.”
It’s an especially busy time for Siobhán and the team but nonetheless, she is looking forward to it. “I’m very happy to be heading into mince pie season,” she says. “Sales of the Simply Better mince pies increase year on year and people consistently come back. They come back because the pies made a memory for them last year and they want to replicate that this year. And I just feel very privileged to be a part of that.”
Find out more about Foods of Athenry here.