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Backing brave:  Woodwin Catering is Baking up success

Based in Craigavon, Woodwin Catering manufactures and distributes traybakes, desserts and savoury goods, supplying well known retailers, cafes and other foodservice outlets across the island of Ireland and beyond.

Having started out initially in the sandwich business when the company was founded in 1983, Woodwin made the brave decision to move into traybakes after acquiring Holmes Bakery in Portadown in 2009. Managing Director Harold Irwin explains, “The sandwich trade was good to us, but the market was moving, and we found that there was tremendous growth potential on the bakery side of things. We expanded into baked goods over a decade ago and the division has grown to such an extent that in 2018 we took the decision to move out of the sandwich trade entirely.”

For Harold, who runs the business alongside wife Daphne and daughter Gillian, maintaining a family ethos is core to its success and defines how the wider team of some 20 employees operates. “We are still small enough to be a family company, which is really important to me. We always want to have a proper relationship with our staff – the person on the floor has a name not a number, we get to know them and if they have any problems they will come to us. We feel that approach really works, and over the years we have been in business we have not seen significant movement of employees, which does say a lot.”

Like many firms within the food industry, the team had to respond at a rapid pace as the Covid-19 pandemic approached. With a spike in retail demand, particularly from local outlets, Holmes’ Bakery was busier than ever. “We quickly introduced new safety protocols, investing in more PPE, increasing the number of sanitising points and maintaining appropriate social distancing, which the team really responded to in a positive way.

“With more people shopping local and retail habits changing at the start of the pandemic, we were busier than ever. Our savoury product has a strong presence in the local area and we saw that grow by 150% overnight. Retail more than filled any gap from the temporary loss of food service, but with the reopening of cafes and restaurants that side of the business is also back and growing again.”

Looking to the future, the company continues to look for new opportunities and has taken the brave decision to grow its reach across the Atlantic, having recently completed its first order with a distributor in the United States seeing a variety of traybakes head stateside.

“2020 saw us make our first big export deal, and we have a second order on the way. A lot of work went into entering the US market, with the support of Invest NI, and we are excited to see this side of the business develop in the coming years.”

Harold and the family still maintain that same drive that saw them start out in business all those years ago. “Over the years we have invested in things that may have seemed out of reach, but we have always believed in our product and the bank has backed us all the way. For Harold, ensuring the business is competitive and as efficient as possible is key to growth.

“My day to day focus is on procurement and looking to see what opportunities are out there. Staying competitive is the lifeblood of any business – if costs keep rising and you aren’t balancing it out, you are going to end up priced out of the marketplace.

“Even from speaking to our own team on a regular basis, we all look for ways we can bring in efficiencies and economies in our production. Just because you did it this way today doesn’t mean you do it that way tomorrow. We are always looking for ways to do things better so we can continue to deliver for our customers.”