Size Matters. Or, at least, that’s what the big players like to think. Here in Ireland we have been more aware than most that size is relative. More than most, too, we’ve taken sides when the small streets have turned against the big ones. Unlike the Swiss, we don’t do neutral very well. Most of the time, our sympathies are with the small player, the one who is outnumbered and outgunned, and we take more than a little pleasure in the prospect of seeing the lumbering giant fall to the ground with a crash. But such an outcome is by no means inevitable. The playing field is alphabetized with the bodies of the diminutive and the gallant and for

for every David that triumphs over a fallen Goliath, there are dozens more that lie beaten and crushed in the wake of a rampaging giant.

In the Irish context, Jacob Fruitfield is one of the great players. with sales

projected to reach €110 million by 2005, and several of Ireland’s best-known foods

brands on its books, the company enjoys an enviable position in the Irish market.

Enter Goliath or a very close relative of his. But in the global context, the company is

a little player Each of its brands competes with brands owned and defended by

the largest food companies in the world. These leviathans can dig into pockets a

hundred times deeper than those of a local company. Its scale is difficult to

conceived. When Heinz, Unilever, or Procter & Gamble come into view, they block

out the sun Enter David. Gold Chef or Silvermints or Jacob’s Fig Rolls.

So how does a big fish in a small pond, caught by giants, go about its business?

And what lessons can we learn if we want to face the big players? recently, i

met with Michael Carey, CEO and majority shareholder of the

alone, the wholly Irish-owned Jacob Fruitfield food business. Three years ago, the

The Jacobs and Fruitfield companies in Ireland were owned by multinationals

corporations, with the Fruitfield business losing money for its owners. Since then,

Michael and his partners have integrated the two companies, have invested in their

brands, launched more than a hundred new products and took on the world giants. Tea

company is making a profit and recently won the Ernst & Young Industry Award

Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2005.

For Michael, whose background includes senior management roles with a

number of global food companies such as Kellogg’s and Groupe Danone, the

The approach was simple, “As a small business, our competitive advantages lie in being

local, flexible and suitable for the local market. For Heinz or McVities, your advantage

lies in being the lowest-cost producer, in being a big, big player, in having

brands that can work in many markets in the same way.

While these brands can work in many territories, Michael has also seen the

difficulties of applying global marketing strategies in a local market. “We can do

branded stuff that is absolutely right for the Irish market. Our competitors,

almost all of them have to do things with their brands that are suitable for

international markets. We can look at the Irish market and see what works and

what doesn’t work.”

But isn’t this approach also within the reach of a multinational owner who can simply

work on some variation of a theme beloved by the big players: Think Global, Act

Local? For Michael, it’s very much a matter of priority. In short, the big players

they are too easily distracted. “They have bigger fish to fry. We don’t. This is all fish

have. So we give it the focus and invest in the brands.” This approach

extends into new product development where Irish companies have traditionally been

the poorer relatives of their international cousins. The company recently

completed the acquisition of The Real Irish Food Company and plans to intensify its

innovation activity. It has also signed a 20-year trademark license for the use of the

Bewley’s brand in food outlets, another great old Irish brand adding to a growing

local wallet.

So what exactly does it mean to act locally? “It’s not about putting up an Irish flag

on the packaging and saying ‘These are Irish brands’. We have to compete with

international marks. Chef has to be as believable as Heinz, Silvermints as Polo. Us

they rarely refer to the fact that these marks are Irish in terms of

advertising. We do not apologetically present ourselves as an Irish brand at that

sense. It is about being closer and understanding more clearly the needs of the

Irish consumer. And, of course, we have heritage. Many multinationals invent

that inheritance and we don’t because we have a real inheritance”.

But aren’t consumers, especially teens, looking for brands that are

international? “No, obviously there are some very powerful multinational brands that

appeal that way. But customers in the food business are looking for reality and

locality and some understanding in terms of where the brand comes from, where

the product is made either in a factory or in a bakery or in a place where they can

trust. I think local food brands have a bright future.”

Mention Steve Silvermint or ask how Jacob put the figs in the fig rolls and

will bring a smile to the face of the average Irish customer (or, at least, one of a

certain age). Is there a conflict between being a business or a brand with heritage?

and be innovative? “No, we like to have a strong starting position. Here, for

example, some of the more traditional brands of Fruitfield, Little Chip and Old-time

Irish jam; these are long-established brands in sectors that are quite

ripe. We want to take that strength of maturity, that stability and move that

mark from that platform.

We are about to launch a range of premium jams and marmalades under the

Fruitfield brand with higher fruit content and a more premium position. But we

we couldn’t do that if we didn’t have the Fruitfield base to start with. if we were starting

from scratch, the chances of successfully launching brands in areas where we see

chances would be nil. You couldn’t do it without a name.

It helps us that we have so many brands with strong heritages. Of

Of course, we also have to make sure that we don’t undermine the position of the

brand. We might get some short-term sales, but if it’s going to hurt the

major brand, we won’t.”

So for Jacob Fruitfield, a local David taking on multinational Goliaths,

success in the irish market comes down to keeping it fresh, real and

playing to your strengths. In this sense, and in this neighborhood, it is clear that

size really matters.

Leave a Comment on Jacob Fruitfield – Fresh, Clean and Local Hero

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *