Ray Ryan explains how O’Sullivan’s Bakery in Killorglin has managed to retain its timeless charm while evolving through the generations…
THE breads and barm bracks of O’Sullivan’s Bakery in Killorglin, Co Kerry, have a distinctive red wrapper, but there’s no known sporting or other significance to the colour.
Started by Tom O’Sullivan as a family business in the town’s Langford St in 1952, it is now in its third generation of ownership and is a fine example of a local bakery retaining its tradition and identity.
Helen O’Sullivan, the present owner, who took over from her father Gearóid in 2009, having worked full time in the business for the previous decade, says their products were in a red wrapper from the beginning as far as she knows.
“Maybe my grandfather was aware of the psychology behind the colour red — it is said to trigger appetite. We have continued with this tradition of the bread in the red wrapper,” she says.
The bakery has moved three times since it was founded. It was based initially in Tom O’Sullivan’s back yard in Langford St and moved to a redundant old fish tackling factory in Market St in 1969. O’Sullivan’s built a new bakery on a greenfield site in the IDA estate in 1997, just up the road from the original site.
It services the Kerry market, has four vans on the road and another four distributors. It also bakes for another business, O’Shea’s, which delivers to the Dingle peninsula.
There are 22 staff directly employed in the bakery, 17 full-time and five full-time/ part-time. It generally has six bakers working each night. Two others work in slicing and wrapping. And then there are drivers, cleaners, office and relief staff and Helen’s parents.
“Our staff turnover would be very low,” she says. “We had an employee retire after 51 years service with us lately, and would have employees who would have gotten their first jobs with us on leaving school and still remain with us today. Like many small businesses we contribute not only to the economic but also the social and cultural life of the locality. We source services, products, and resources as locally as possible and form an essential part of the supply chain for larger as well as smaller businesses.
“Repairs required within the bakery are sourced locally. Vans are mainly purchased within Kerry. We contribute to a number of social and cultural events and the O’Sullivan family volunteer on many committees and groups.
“Each year we provide bread and bracks for many of the main charities of the Ring of Kerry cycle. We support groups through sponsorship or by providing them with our products.
These include GAA, basketball, and golf clubs, family fun days, hospice mornings and festivals like Puck Fair. By locals supporting our business they are essentially giving money back to the local community.”
After secondary school (ISK Killorglin), Helen attended University College Cork and graduated in 1998 with a BSc in Food Business (Hons). She has also completed Certificates in Food Hygiene and Legislation.
She travelled for a year and then worked in various sections of the business until her father retired in 2009. Since then, she has been the owner and manager, doing a bit of everything from slicing, office duties, tastings, deliverie,s and marketing to developing new ideas and staying up to date on new technologies, legislation, and product demand changes.
“I still run my ideas off my father,” she says. “It might take him a while to come around to my thinking but he nearly always does.”
O Sullivan’s product range includes pan loaves, soda breads, wholegrain loaves and rolls, barm bracks, traditional seed and butter loaves, spelt breads, and low GI (glycemic index) multiseed breads.
“We produce high quality products using quality ingredients from suppliers like Odlums, O’Neills Mills and Lee Strand,” says Helen. “Our breads are baked using time honoured methods of production with each loaf taking 40 minutes to prove and 40 minutes baking time.
“We rely heavily on the Kerry market. We also love to export and this would be a current aspiration. At present, during the Christmas period, we would send our award-winning Kerry bracks to places as far away as the United States, China, and Australia.”
O’Sullivan’s have always been innovative and in 2004 were the first to develop a range of spelt bread — an alternative for people with a wheat intolerance.
The products were accepted onto Musgraves Food Academy programme in 2015. It has also recently developed a new bread roll which suits the Unislim clientele. Helen says being a member of Love Irish Food gives the bakery’s customers extra confidence in the products. The logo guarantees that the product is manufactured in the Republic of Ireland and that the ingredients are sourced as locally as possible.
“We have always considered it vital to buy Irish and to try and help the economy,” says Helen. “The challenge is especially important in rural areas in order to keep and maintain good employees who might otherwise migrate or emigrate.
“Spending and supporting local is extremely important, and if our bakery is not supported locally,we can’t support locally either.”
Helen is proud to be associated with the hard work that her grandfather began and her father continued and with the rebranding the bakery has achieved in recent years.
She is also proud of various honours in recent years. These have come from Blas na hÉireann, Great Taste, Connect Kerry Women in Business, and Radio Kerry Excellence in Business.
The bread industry has seen huge change, with diet, health, functional foods, and convenience impacting on it. O’Sullivan’s, a community business, is adapting to all those challenges while still maintaining its 65-year-old tradition of producing quality products.