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Irish Examiner: CLODAGH FINN: The bread-and-butter economics of buying local

May 2, 2017 Industry News

There’s no point in being sorry when another traditional business in another Irish town closes down — support it when it’s still open instead, writes Clodagh Finn.

Even now, more than a month after the closure of Barry’s bakery on Rock St, people in Tralee are saying how sorry they were to see it go.

As a person who grew up on Barry’s bread, I’m very sorry too. A total of 21 jobs are gone, along with a 92-year-old family business, not to mention the bakery’s arán gan sárú — bread without rival.

Though, it’s too late for regret. If all the people who are sorry now bought the bakery’s products with equal fervour, we might not be here now.

When the bakery closed, in a dignified statement, it thanked hardworking staff, family, suppliers, and loyal customers, and attributed the closure to falling sales.

There’s been an outpouring on Facebook ever since, mourning the loss of Barry’s vanilla slices, iced teacakes, and, of course, that unrivalled arán in all its guises. There’s been a little nostalgia rush for the bakery’s little electric vans, too.

They whirred around town delivering bread from the back of a van that seemed too perfectly square to remain upright. But it did.

We are all sorry now, but that is a familiar refrain. It’s been repeated, time and again, in towns all over Ireland. We want local produce, local enterprise, local jobs, but somehow we’re a little less enthusiastic when it comes to supporting local business.

Perhaps it’s complacency. There is so much choice and so many 3-for-2 bargains in the aisles of our supermarkets that sometimes the philosophy of buying local goes out the window.

But have we ever stopped to think how much power we wield with our shopping trolley? If just one third of Irish homes spent €1.67 more per week on Irish produce, that would generate €35m for the economy in a year, according to the Love Irish Food campaign.

That movement was formed in 2009 when a group of Irish brands came together with a simple goal: To show how we, as shoppers, can protect Irish jobs by making simple choices.

This is the campaign’s compelling argument in a single paragraph: “Behind every Irish product on the shelves is a real homegrown story about people working from farm to factory to supermarket floor to bring you your great quality Irish product. And it’s those people we want you to think about and hopefully, together, we can make a real difference to their livelihoods.”

The story of Barry’s bakery in Tralee is a perfect example of one of those homegrown stories. The business started in the tumultuous days of the Civil War when Paddy Barry set up a bakery in Blennerville, just outside the town. Before he had a chance to put the first loaf in the oven, the Free State army took over Tralee, the surrounding areas — and his bakery.

He started in Rock St in 1929 and the bakery thrived, surviving a world war, a devastating fire in 1957, and, later, the boom and bust of the Irish economy. The bakery also stayed in the family, passing down through three generations to the present bakery team, Mary, David, and Paddy Barry.

Since the bakery’s closure, there has been a genuine outpouring of appreciation for the family and concern for the 21 people who have now lost their jobs.

Let’s hold on to that appreciation of good-quality locally manufactured produce and harness it to make a real difference, not just in Tralee but everywhere.

That means putting the local product in the supermarket trolley as often as the budget allows. Sometimes it is the more expensive item, but not always. And remember what the Love Irish Food campaign says: Just €1.67 a week can make such a huge difference. Most of us can afford that, and more.

But we need to go farther. As consumers we have real power, let’s start to use it. We need to ask questions of our hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, hospitals, and workplace canteens. Are they buying local produce? And if not, why not?

The food-service market grew to a record €7.5bn in 2016, according to Bord Bia figures. It’s forecasted to grow to over €9bn by 2020. It’s up to us as consumers to make sure that local food manufacturers get a slice of that.

In Tralee, a group of consultants has just been appointed to develop a masterplan for the redevelopment of the former Denny bacon factory site at the Island of Geese.

Kerry County Council got an overwhelming response when it asked the public to say how it wanted the central location to be developed. Most people ticked the following categories: “arts and culture”, “sports and recreation”, and “public amenity space”.

Interestingly, the single most popular proposal was to turn the site — or part of it — into a local farmers’ market along the lines of the English Market in Cork or the Milk Market in Limerick.

Great idea, but two questions: Is the footfall in Tralee big enough to support it? Is there the willingness among the population to buy local?

Whatever the answers, it is worth turning to the English Market for inspiration. The Farmgate restaurant with its wonderful watch-the-world-go-by gallery on the first floor is run by Kay Harte, a woman with a food philosophy that should be emulated everywhere. Her menu blackboard is an illustration of how we might guarantee Irish food-manufacturing jobs. Alongside each dish, there’s a list of the local supplier, many of whom sell their produce in the market below.

For more inspiration, travel a few miles out the road to Sage in Midleton, a restaurant that sources every delicious morsel of its menu locally. Everything on it has been grown, reared or produced with a 12-mile radius.

There’s no point in waiting for other restaurants to follow suit. We need to ask — demand — that what we’re eating is, at least in part, sourced locally. Remember, the customer is always right. Let’s learn the lesson of Barry’s bakery: Don’t be sorry, just buy local instead.

There’s no point in being sorry when another traditional business in another Irish town closes down — support it when it’s still open instead

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