When the Covid-19 crisis hit, Irish chocolate company, Bean & Goose, made the most of the lockdown
“The lockdown began right before Easter, which is one of our biggest times of the year,” says Natalie Keane, co-owner of Bean & Goose. “We had finished making and packing our Easter products and we were just about to start shipping them out to our retail customers. But in about two days, we lost about 95% of our customers and our Easter products were sadly left on the shelves.”
Set up in 2016 by sisters Natalie and Karen Keane in Co Wexford, Bean & Goose specialises in making craft chocolate bars, truffles, and chocolate gifts such as their Tasting Club, a subscription service which sends out two bars of chocolate, a once-off bar and one from the core range. They started selling to markets around Dublin until they began getting orders from retail outlets.
But because they were focused on in-person retail through independent retailers, hotels, and cafés to sell their products, the lockdown came as a shock to their business.
“We quickly made the decision that we would have to really ramp up our online campaign because the only way to get these products to our customers was through our online store,” says Natalie. “We were lucky that we invested heavily in our digital marketing in the last couple of years so that when we asked our customers to make the transition to buying online, they were very open to doing that.”
Because of reaching their customers online, the sisters managed to sell out their Easter range, from dark chocolate hares to chocolate goose eggs. In fact, sales figures went up 65% in March, April and May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. Within two weeks of online sales, they knew that their customers were loyal to them and would likely continue to buy the products this way.
Hard work and support
Natalie and Karen say that a big reason why their business was able to make the leap online and succeed, was due to their hard work over the last few years marketing and building up a solid customer base. This work was helped by being accepted for Food Works in 2015, an Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc backed accelerator programme for food and drink businesses.
“This was hugely important for us,” says Natalie. “It allowed us to exhibit in bigger markets, secure feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland, and it really set us up to think of the business as a scalable opportunity. Food Works gave us the roadmap to be able to build the business with the mentoring, advice and contacts they made available to us.”
While this support has helped them achieve success, it was also great timing which helped them during the lockdown. The drive online actually represented an opportunity they didn’t realise they needed.
Natalie says, “We are in a transition stage at the moment as we are changing our core range of chocolate bar flavours for the first time in five years, as well as our packaging. We had always planned to do that at this time, but because we used to deal predominantly with retail customers, we believed we would have to scale back a little and maybe even close the store as we transitioned.”
“Now that we’re trading online for most of our business, we have been able to make the transition and continue trading because our online customers are perfectly fine with the product arriving in the interim packaging and flavours. It’s worked out really well for us.”
As Bean & Goose have managed to keep their business thriving under the lockdown pressures, they also took part in an initiative to highlight the work of frontline workers during these extraordinary times. They were one of 18 Irish designers and makers to give away their products in a hamper to a nominated hero.
“One amazing thing I have noticed through all of this is how very kind and thoughtful people are to each other during this time. So they want to give gifts and there’s no better gift than chocolate. We are definitely selling the right product at the right time!”