Irish people adore bread and it’s one of those foods that brings with it lots of nostalgic memories. The smell of it baking reminds us of visits to granny’s house, white bread with lashings of butter was always an indulgent treat and throw a ham sandwich together and you’re reliving childhood picnics. Maura Kearney has run the popular Kearney’s Bakery in Ballynahill, Co Limerick along with her sister Siobhán for 25 years. Their products are all handmade by traditional methods, aimed at customers short on time yet craving the wholseome bread they grew up loving. Here, Maura shares what it is like creating a range of traditional baked goods and breads when the shop shelves are full of modern and trendy rivals.
25 years is a long time to be in business. Why do you think your traditional products have stood the test of time?
Back when we started in 1992 women were staying in the workplace more, so there was a lot of change, homebaking was happening less and we were able to make this product that filled that need in a lot of households. They still got a homemade traditional product even though their lifestyles changed. People do say to us that it is just like the foods their mothers and grandmothers used to bake. They don’t mind not baking at home any more as ours is just as good. When you hear lovely comments like that it gives you a lot of drive.
You must have a lot of loyal customers. What has been key to keeping them?
We have customers that go to the shops specifically to get our breads, so timing is everything in the mornings. It’s an essential, like popping out for milk and the paper. That’s great for us but we are aware that we’re in competition not just with the commercial sliced pans but with treats like apple tarts and biscuits. But we focus on making what we make right for those people who want something with that extra quality. Our customers know that our products haven’t been sitting on a shelf, and that they’re made of natural ingredients. The shelf life is short, but it is short for a reason. We would have the same ingredients as a home baker would, like Odlums flour and Stork margarine, fresh eggs from Monaghan. We’re just saving them the time of baking it themselves.
How have you attracted new customers, especially when there are so many trendy alternatives around?
We do a lot of in-store promotions of our bread, providing tastings. We introduced a new health loaf recently that contains 100% wholemeal flour. There’s no white flour in it. We highlight to our customers that there is no sugar added to our breads. We’ve also introduced mini scones that are great for people who are mindful of portion size.
What would you say to someone who is wary of bread when carbs have gotten a lot of bad publicity?
Artisan breads made with whole milk and wholemeal flour provide a lot of nutrients. There are good ingredients going in to artisan bread. All our ingredients are Irish, and exactly what you would have in your own kitchen. Just add soup or a salad and you have a filling and nutritious meal.
Making a traditional product, do you have to deal with the early mornings like traditional bakers would have?
It is a challenge, you are working against the clock to get the vans out to the shops. We start at four o’clock in the morning because we are making everything fresh that day. The aim is to have it all sold that day too, as we don’t add any preservatives or softeners to our products. But we love what we do and no day is the same.
Keep an eye out for tastings of Kearney’s Bakery products throughout Limerick and Kerry for National Bread Week, September 11-17. For more on the Kearneys visit kearneyshomebaking.com and for more on National Bread Week visit www.nationalbreadweek.ie.
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