In this Q&A Caroline Murphy, Owner of West Cork Eggs discusses business challenges, future plans, branching out into business mentoring, and much more..
Can you tell us a bit about your business?
I often like to say that mine is a story of City Chic to Country Chick. I am from London, born to Irish parents, so being a farmer’s wife or indeed a hen flock owner was never something that I thought about!!
I came to Ireland with the intention of staying 12 months but then I met my now husband and we live on our family farm just outside Rosscarbery, West Cork. I got my first 4 hens in 2009 and we just loved the fresh, delicious taste and the fact that we knew by giving our hens Good Food, Freedom and Fun they in return gave us such great food. This is still our mantra today.
Our flock grew little by little and we were selling our eggs to friends and neighbours and when I had 200 hens, I approached my local Supervalu to see would they be interested in selling our eggs and they said yes!!
In 2015 we became part of the Supervalu Food Academy programme and this really helped to open doors for us and get shelf space in the stores. As part of this opportunity, we expanded rapidly twice, rebranded, established our own packing centre and now supply most Supervalu stores in Cork city and County as well as other independent retail outlets and food service.
We now have 3500 free range hens on our family farm and we only sell eggs that we produce on the farm. We also manage our own deliveries and we are a real family business with my husband and 4 kids involved as well as 4 other staff members.
We have won a number of awards for both the business and our eggs and are immensely proud to say that we have won 2 Gold Awards and 1 Silver Award at the Blas na hEireann Awards over the last 3 years.
What are the challenges that you face in your business and how do you work to overcome them particularly in the current climate?
There are always challenges in a business and especially when you are dealing with livestock. Our bird’s happiness and welfare is always at the front of what we do and they are an essential part of our business. COVID brought its own challenges obviously and we could have sold 3 times as much stock as we did. However, the birds knew nothing about pandemic or viruses and continued to do what they do best, but they still only laid one egg a day.
Consumer education can be a challenge too, as people do not often understand the cycle of our birds and that when they start laying they will lay the smaller, ‘pullet’ eggs. These eggs are just as delicious and nutritious as more ‘normal size’ eggs and are great in omelettes, scrambled and even fried eggs. But we find that people don’t want smaller eggs as much and they don’t see the value in them.
As a company we do try and educate our customers every time we get pullet eggs and we make a little ground each time. We are lucky that we work with Food Cloud who take the eggs we cannot sell and give them to people in need and charities. Over time we have also established relationships with local chefs who use the pullet eggs. But like many food producers it is about educating the consumer about where our food comes from and the cycles it takes.
Like any other business we also need to plan for the future and COVID showed us how fragile that can be. But we have a loyal customer base who love our product so we will continue to plan and grow into the future.
Have you seen an increased demand for locally produced food in recent years?
Yes, most definitely. I think with initiatives like the Food Academy and others like Grow with Aldi and the other national supermarkets, have all really helped to highlight the quality and variety of locally produced food. West Cork is a haven of well produced, locally sourced, delicious food and we have learned to become very good at promoting and supporting this. Consumers are much more educated these days about where their food comes from and the value of supporting local food producers.
I think Covid also highlighted the importance of locally produced food and many customers found a new respect for those producing in their local areas. It meant that they could still buy their food even when supply chains had been interrupted because of the pandemic. If the local suppliers hadn’t been there and stepped up I believe there would have been many more empty shelves.
I truly hope and believe that this support will continue and encourage established and new producers to continue to produce amazing food for the Irish consumer, and others, to enjoy.
What made you diversify into business mentoring?
I love mentoring and coaching. Helping and supporting others is very important to me and that people believe that they really can achieve whatever it is they want to achieve if they put the work in. Success is a choice, it doesn’t happen by accident and we have to commit to that choice.
Throughout my career and most definitely throughout my journey of West Cork Eggs, there have been steep learning curves, I have got things wrong and I have had many moments where I have thought “What am I doing??”, “I cant do this” and “Help, I am overwhelmed”. However, I learnt to ask for help as this is not a natural skill of mine, and I also learned to surround myself with people who would help me become the business woman I wanted to be.
I believe that none of us can do this alone and I want others to benefit from the mistakes I have made so that they don’t need to do the same and also there is power in having a coach or mentor who will champion you, give you a safe space to express your thoughts, your fears, your ideas and your dreams. A mentor will also see what you don’t and that may be stuff in your business but also potential in you!!
I believe a coach/mentor is a very powerful tool to have in your business tool kit and I know this because I have used this tool and also it is great to watch people work towards their goal and become the business owner they truly want and deserve to be.
What made you decide to become a member of Guaranteed Irish?
I have always felt that Guaranteed Irish is a very strong brand with a very clear message on what it means and stands for. It allows customers of the business to feel confident that they are dealing with a truly genuinely Irish business and it is very important to me that we support Irish businesses as much as we can.
We are a business based in West Cork and we only sell eggs that have been produced on our home farm. By doing this we can stand over every single egg we sell and know that the hen that laid it has had Good Food, Freedom and Fun and that each egg in our boxes is a genuine egg from West Cork. I feel our ethos sits very well with Guaranteed Irish we both do what it says on the box.
The Guaranteed Irish gives our customers an extra layer of confidence and guarantee about the product they are buying as the symbol is very trusted and recognised. So, in my view anything that does that can only enhance my brand.
I am very proud to be part of Guaranteed Irish and look forward to the future with them.
What can we expect for West Cork Eggs in the future?
Well, we are certainly here to stay!! Planning for the future is very important and recent times have showed us that sometimes plans can go astray but we must always still plan for the future. We currently supply in the Cork city and county area and we would hope to expand some more in the near future. We have received great support from the Food Academy in the past and hope that this support will continue so that we can share our delicious eggs with more people. We are a small family business and everyone in the business, from the hens, to staff, to our family are very important and we want to continue to build a business where people are happy to work here and the customer continues to love our delicious free range eggs.