Laura Thorp, MD and owner of Laura’s Cookies in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, is a firm believer in the ’healthy’ properties of spelt flour, which she uses to create all her bakery goods.
Launched at the end of 2004, the company makes biscuits, cookies, shortbread and brownies, all baked with spelt. Thorp says it is nutritious, wholesome and a good alternative to wheat flour. The gluten it contains is also more fragile, making it easier to digest. "It’s high in protein and full of vitamin B, amino acids and fibre," she says. The restorative qualities of spelt flour have been known for many centuries, she adds.
Thorp, aged just 21 when she started up the business, has developed it rapidly, aided by a capital grant from the Wicklow County Enterprise Board. The company is the product of a long-held dream, which started when she was a teenager.
Still at school, Thorp gained early trade experience by baking buns and selling them on a stall in a Dublin market during the summer holidays. She then went to college to study physics, chemistry and maths, but in her second year she decided to leave to start her own business.
Laura’s Cookies is located in a 2,000sq ft unit on an industrial estate in Kilcoole, with part of the premises sub-leased to another company. Equipment in the bakery includes a 60-litre mixer, a chocolate tempering machine, a flow-wrapper, metal detector, cake cutter and biscuit former, as well as a convection oven.
All the company’s products are sold to the wholesale trade and Thorp has over 50 outlets, including coffee shops, restaurants and health food shops, on her books. The company does most of its own distribution, although it recently took on health foods distributor Simply Wild.
Thorp’s dedication to spelt flour has already garnered attention in the Irish community, with editorial coverage in magazines and spots on several TV and radio programmes. She puts it down to the growing popularity of spelt flour in Ireland. "Increasingly, people know about its advantages," she says. Apart from spelt flour, she uses oatmeal in her Amazing range of chocolate biscuit cakes and oatmeal biscuits.
Thorp handles product research and development herself and several other products are now in the pipeline. "Quality is all-important. People are prepared to pay for good quality," she says.
With a firm footing in her home market, Thorp’s next ambition is to break into the UK and she is on a programme with the Irish Exporters Association to do just that. Recently, she took a research trip to the UK, looking at outlets and products already on the market.
Thorp says she has been helped a great deal by several people. "I’m lucky in having good mentors - George Balmer from the Wicklow County Enterprise Board and Anne-Marie Canty from the Irish Exporters Association - who are on hand to advise when necessary," she says. n
=== Company at a glance ===
Business name: Laura’s Bakery
Location: Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, Ireland
Set up: December 2004
Financing: Grant from Wicklow County Enterprise Board, bank loans and personal input
Turnover: under E5m
Wholesale/retail percentage split: all production sold to cafés, restaurants and catering outlets
Key personnel: Laura Thorp, managing director and owner
Staff: four people - three in the bakery and one on deliveries
Product specialities: cookies, shortbreads, brownies and biscuits
Ingredients: spelt flour, oatmeal (for oatmeal biscuits), butter and chocolate. No artificial colours, additives or preservatives