How Fitzgeralds Family Bakery has risen to the challenge during the Covid-19 crisis
“We have been very busy during the lockdown as retail demand has increased significantly,” says Simon Fitzgerald, Director of Fitzgeralds Family Bakery. “Unfortunately, while retail sales have increased because consumers are mostly eating at home, the food-to-go and food service suppliers have been very badly hit.”
Simon is part of the fourth generation to run his family bakery, Fitzgeralds Family Bakery, which was first opened on Blarney Street in Cork city in 1910 by his great-grandfather. It is now run by Simon, Suzanne and Garry FitzGerald, with a whole new generation of little tasters by their feet.
The bakery sells to retail businesses including SuperValu, Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Eurospar, Mace, Londis, and Costcutter in Ireland and also exports its products to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Ocado in the UK. The range of baked goods includes wraps, Bake-at-Home French and Italian breads, pittas and naans, pizza bases, and their most popular product, bagels. Due to being a retail business, they benefited from the initial stage of panic buying and being an essential service.
“When the lockdown hit, our sales increased by more than 30%,” says Simon. “Now the panic buying has settled, and we are still seeing an increase of around 10 to 15% for the next few months potentially. As hotels and restaurants were forced to close, the manufacturers supplying those customers suffered badly. We were fortunate that our main service was retail and we had success in the UK market too, so that really helped us.
“Although we have had to make a lot of changes to our ways of working to make sure everyone can work safely, we have been very fortunate that we have had the full co-operation of our great staff and that everyone has stayed safe and well.” explains Fitzgerald.
During the Covid-19 crisis, many businesses struggled, either through enforced closures or too much demand in a stressful environment.
Simon says, “Our aim was to produce enough product to meet the demand for our customers. And there was such a demand! We were also very fortunate that we had ordered a second bagel production line in October, which has been delivered and commissioned in recent weeks.”
Fitzgeralds Family Bakery was able to face this task with the help of Enterprise Ireland and their supports. They have gained support and grant aid over the years, including capital and employment grants to help the business grow.
“We have been able to go from having fewer than 50 employees to nearly 100. This is due in no small part to the support and guidance we have had from Enterprise Ireland. We have been incredibly well supported by them. They invest in businesses to help them provide employment and I think we have achieved those goals.”
Having such support is important for the future of the business and the industry at large as the pandemic has changed everything about the business landscape. It has vastly changed lifestyles, which in turn has changed working lives and even the way people eat.
“With the lockdown and social distancing, it has made people stop, re-think, and change their eating habits. Going forward, there will definitely be fewer people going out to eat. More people are working from home and that is likely to continue to some degree and children may well see some of their education being delivered by remote learning, so there is more demand to eat at home.
“It really does feel like an opportunity for those of us in the retail food industry as it’s more likely people will buy food in a shop and take it home than eat out. This means an increase in business.” says Fitzgerald.
“We are a modern family craft bakery and we want to keep producing high-quality products. We will continue to develop our range of products and continue to be innovative and bring new exciting products to the market. We have nearly doubled our retail sales in the last two years, and I think that’s due to this commitment.”