Genesis Crafty, Magherafelt

Each month we profile a family business to see how it has passed down through the generations. Here, how Genesis Crafty went from home bakery to successful supermarket supplier

One bakery, six brothers – that’s Genesis Crafty. Founded by the siblings’ parents Joe and Roberta McErlain in 1968, the business has come a long way.

Joe McErlain loading the vanWhile working as a grocery salesman, Joe decided the best way to put bread on the table for his family was to make his own. Luckily, he didn’t have to go far to find suitable premises and opened up a bakery next door to the family home on Church Street in Magherafelt. It has grown from a simple operation delivering bread to the local community, to a business with more than 250 staff, supplying major supermarkets with bread, buns and cakes.

“My mother’s overriding value was don’t sell what you wouldn’t eat yourself,” says MD Brian McErlain, and it’s a mindset embraced to this day. “If you’re working with M&S and Waitrose, you have to be at the top of your game to stay there.”

Between 1979 and 2000, Joe and Roberta’s six children – Adrian, John, Brian, Paul, Damian and Seamus – joined the business in roles from product and process development to sales. While only three are trained bakers, growing up surrounded by flour, eggs and yeast before, after and occasionally instead of school prepared them for the bakery business. “We learned all the skills as kids,” says Brian.

In 1982, things kicked up a gear when Genesis signed a contract to supply Wellworths, one of the largest retailers in Northern Ireland at the time. As the firm grew, a new site was acquired and, in 1993, the business moved to Aughrim Road, now a 30,000 sq ft premises, where it resides today.

While the Genesis Crafty brand is prominent in Ireland and Northern Ireland, those in Great Britain are likely to be more familiar with its own-label lines, which account for 60% of its trade.

A core part of Genesis’ own-label business comes from the multiples. In the late 1990s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s hit Northern Ireland and Genesis began working with them and, a few years later, it was supplying Waitrose and Sainsbury’s across the UK.

“After a few weeks of having your product on shelf, if it sells it stays, if it doesn’t it goes,” Brian says. “The big change for us came in 2008, when M&S approached us looking for a baker to supply their 40 stores in Ireland with local types of cake.”

M&S has since listed products in its UK stores as well. “It’s gone from a standing start in 2010 to where we will do £4m to £5m-worth of business with M&S this year.”

1968: Joe and Roberta McErlain open McErlain’s Bakery on Church Street, Magherafelt
1979: Adrian becomes the first of Joe and Roberta’s six sons to join the family business
1982: The business scales up after signing a contract with one of NI’s largest retailers, Wellworths
1998: McErlain’s Bakery changes its name to Genesis, accompanied by a new world bread range
2000: Damian, the youngest McErlain brother, comes on board
2005: Genesis Crafty makes a breakthrough into the GB market thanks to contracts with Waitrose and Sainsbury’s
2010: Its first products roll out onto the shelves in Marks & Spencer

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