TWENTY THREE years into their confectionery journey, Wilde Irish Chocolate could have been forgiven for believing their dreams were melting away with the arrival of Covid-19.
Producers of more than 70 flavours of luxury, handmade chocolate products, their business model had become intrinsically linked to the local tourism industry. Open to chocolate factory tours in East Clare, they also sell their product to tourist and independent retailers around the country.
However with the advent of two lockdowns and strict travel restrictions, their target market has physically disappeared in one fell swoop. With their factory shop in Tuamgraney along with stores in Doolin and Dingle forced to close their doors, 2020 was shaping up to be a year of uncertainty and retreat. Owners Con and Patricia Farrell had just secured a bank loan and reinvested money to increase their capacity in early spring. With support from Local Enterprise Office Clare and the Clare Local Development Company, they decided to persevere with their plans despite the year that lay in wait.
Having tripled the size of their facility to 3,000sq ft, Wilde Irish Chocolate proudly opened its hot chocolate café on site in October before disaster struck again and Level 5 restrictions came into place. But the pair refused to raise the white flag and Patricia tells The Clare Echo that Wilde Irish Chocolate will soon prosper again after learning from what she describes as the “Covid silver linings”. A self-confessed chocoholic, Patricia says the pair set up the business originally out of their mutual love for chocolate. That passion remains evident 23 years later as they adjust to the everchanging economy of pandemic living.
One of those silver linings, maintains Patricia, is the 500 per cent increase in online sales. The other is the outpouring of support from Irish retailers and customers that has been evident since the first lockdown happened in March.
“Tourist retail has suffered appallingly and there are literally no orders from there,” explains Patricia. “But since October, retailers that never came to us before are ringing us now saying we’ve got to get Irish products because everyone is asking for local stuff and handmade stuff, and they’re really interested in getting that kind of product into their shops. So we have had multiple inquiries from Irish independent retailers around the country saying we want to get Irish product in here. Businesses are also looking to reward their staff or customers with Irish product that’s handmade locally, especially small business because they really realise that if we don’t support our small businesses they won’t be there. So there has been a massive change.
“Online as well, has just exploded. We’ve had a website for years and years and it tips away but since the first lockdown it’s gone bananas. So Covid has made us look at what are the opportunities for us to survive and grow.”
Seeing particular success in the lead-up to Christmas is their ‘Chocolate Happiness in a box’ which contains all their goodies and can be purchased for €45 + delivery (they are also offering free carriage on all orders over €70 to Irish addresses as part of #greenfriday). The website was set up 10 years ago and has since been improved with the help of LEO Clare’s trading online voucher. Patricia says that they are preparing to roll out an updated website to respond to their growing success in this area.
“It is growing and it’s really exciting that the Green Friday initiative and Click For Clare and the #shoplocal, that all turns directly into sales on the website because people can’t get out and they want to support you and get nice things as gifts or for themselves, so all these are fantastic, they’re so helpful.”