As 2009 comes to a close we can reflect on a much better year than we would have anticipated. The Christmas season in many ways shocked as we had fears of a huge drop in sales both locally and, in particular, Southern Ireland. As Christmas drew closer the war between the multiple food retailers seemed to intensify and the British and Irish supermarket would appear to have become the new generation of 'pound shops'. I fear very much for the future of food if this continues. I overheard a conversation were a lady, obviously with a young family, stated that she always bought the 45p loaf because she used it for the kids and the same lady insisted on buying 'Pal' as opposed to the own label brand for her pooch! This philosophy of producing cheap food I feel must be addressed in 2010.
November was a very busy month, the bakery was flat out making mince pies for our biggest customer Pallas Foods who surprised us with their unexpected volume of product needed. I also had time to entertain the Randalstown and East Antrim Bee Keepers at the bakery with a demonstration using honey in bakery products. On the night we managed to raise £160 for our company chosen charity Marie Curie. Clare (the apple and toffee parcel fan) joined Good Food Ireland and Tourism Ireland at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham promoting our oatcakes and biscuits. The highlight for Clare was a conversation with Jamie Oliver when she managed to pass him off with some Ditty's Oatcakes.
In December production was running literally around the clock particularly with product for Waitrose where volumes more than doubled on the back of a promotion during November. I think this might have been helped by some excellent press coverage; our oatcake was voted in the top three by BBC Good Food Magazine and The Daily Telegraph Saturday supplement did a little feature on myself and our biscuits. This business with Waitrose has grown dramatically for us over the last twelve months and we feel our brand has become recognised on the UK supermarket shelves. In 2010 we hope to extend our range with Waitrose. Other good news, our branded products for Paxton and Whitfield have been launched on the Australian market.
Also, in December Nick Price launched his new cookery book 'The Accidental Chef' in which some of my recipes feature. Having read it I feel it is a must for any home cook, well written, easy to understand and the illustrations are superb. Nick's style of cooking is simple and uncomplicated and the recipes in the book do not require an extensive store cupboard. I wish Nick a successful start to a new career!
Trading over Christmas in our shops was surprisingly good, just beating last year's figures, which I had not expected. We need to look at more niche type products for next year. Probably our most successful new product this year was our muffin snowmen which proved a big success with the kids.
At home the heavy fall of snow, the weekend before Christmas, made for a very seasonal scenic view from my den window were I spent hours in between eating watching the wild birds in my garden.
We had a flock of Red Wings arrive on Christmas Eve and over three days stripped all the berries off two large holly bushes. There were literally thousands of birds in the garden, it is little wonder it costs me £20 a week to feed them! We had House Sparrows, Gold Finches, Green Finches, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and I believe I saw a pair of Linnets which would be unusual. Our Fan Tailed Pigeons looked great in the snowy back drop which helped to camouflage them from the Sparrow Hawks which regularly visit our garden.
Finally, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.