Not just a pretty box
Ireland’s number one indigenous Irish chocolatier, Lily O’Brien’s, has seen great success since the recent rebrand of its products. David Corscadden talks to managing director of the company, Eoin Donnelly, about how the rebrand has been received and the fast approaching Christmas period
16 October 2013
For chocoholics, working in a premium chocolate business is a thing of fantasy. However, for Eoin Donnelly, this is his daily life, turning up to work every day at Lily O’Brien’s offices in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. "The smell of good chocolate in the air as you arrive to work each morning is very much a perk of the job," says Donnelly.
Chocolate in the family
Not originally being based in confectionery, Donnelly worked with Green Isle Foods for a time before he made his way to the sector; working with Nestlé, where he was based for 10 years. While chocolate was not his first stop, he does say: "If you go back far enough, my father use to work for Ernie Chocolates and HB Chocolate, so chocolates were there."
Having worked with the larger Nestlé company for a decade, Donnelly explains that his experience in many different aspects of the company gave him vital skills that he could utilise at Lily O’Brien’s. "The thing about working with a smaller business is that you can get involved with absolutely everything as the factory is right beside your office."
"Lily O’Brien’s is obviously a long term success, since its founding in 1992," explains Donnelly. The brand, which will celebrate its 21st birthday this year, has seen great success in the market, making it Ireland’s top performing indigenous chocolatier. "We always have [at least] 14% market share which rises up to 19% around the seasonal times, such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, when confectionery sees an increase in sales."
In the current financial climate, customers have moved away from spur of the moment buying and would much rather buy better quality chocolate and enjoy the experience. "One of the things that we would see is that premium is securing growth and in particular showed great growth in Christmas 2012 and then into 2013. The premium assortments are actually driving all the growth. People, when they have the money, will buy it as an affordable luxury. Customers are actually like: "Yes I would like to treat myself or the person I am buying for and hope they will share with me.""
The company has seen its sales soar, following the successful uptake of its rebranding exercise, carried out at the start of 2013. The newly branded products put the chocolate centre stage on its packaging; with images showcasing the company’s high quality treats. The new designed packages have gone for a "simple and classic design" by incorporating the ‘O’ from O’Brien’s into a torc, which now adorns all the company’s products.
Gold star improvements
While the packaging received a fresh face, Donnelly stresses that the improvement was not simply cosmetic. "Redeveloping the brand was not just about the outer box but everything from the actual taste of the chocolates. The ones that were absolute winners, such as our sticky toffee and our crispy heart, we said they were winners and there was no need to change those after our focus groups. However others we looked at to develop and to premiumise them."
Given the way the market has gone in recent years, Donnelly believes that companies can go one of two ways. They can downgrade or go down the premium route. "You can say we are going to bite and re-engineer down and make our stuff cheaper than last year and find cheaper ingredients or you can premiumise. We decided to premiumise and as a result of that our brand changed dramatically."
The rebranding exercise proved to be a great success with an increase in sales and support from the trade. "One of the things that gives you faith in a process like this is that the sales jumped and the trade loved it." On top of this, the rebrand and improvements were acknowledged with two awards at the Great Taste Awards 2013. The winning recipes – Key Limey Pie and Death by Chocolate – feature within the Irish chocolatier’s Desserts and Ultimate Chocolate Collections respectively.
The season of giving
With Christmas around the corner, Lily O’Brien’s is already prepared to offer customers the perfect present solutions. Taking the hassle out of gift giving, the company’s gift wrapped box of chocolates is already popular with both those giving presents and those receiving. "Our ultimate 190g gift wrapped box would be a key product for us all year round and is the one that people love to get; it’s a great, no hassle gift," explains Donnelly.
"We also have our dessert 230g boxes which are a slightly different product to what a lot of people have on the market." Unlike the company’s larger boxes of chocolates, its Petit Chocolate Indulgence box offers consumers smaller chocolates which are good at competing on price point, which is vital for the trade.