Making it Work

A Wexford bakery bets on the doughnuts to bring in the dollars

The Wexford-based business has focused solely on making doughnuts since the pandemic – a risky move that has paid off for the fourth-generation bakery

Conor Kelly, Kelly's Bakery, Wexford: ‘We’d been making bread since 1910. Stopping and doing something completely new was a big change.’ Picture: Maura Hickey

Data and doughnuts. That sums up the pressure and the rationale behind a big change Conor Kelly made to Kelly’s Bakery when he joined the business, the fourth generation of the Kellys to do so, eight years ago.

Having been founded in 1910 by his great-grandfather James Kelly, the Wexford town-based business was at a crossroads over a century into its existence. The data said a change was needed – and that doughnuts proved to be the way forward. If you’ve eaten a doughnut bought in a supermarket in recent years, the odds are it was made at Kelly’s.

“I came into the business in 2015 when Dermot, my father, had started dabbling with doughnuts. They turned out to be profitable, whereas bread and confectionery weren’t proving to be any more,” Kelly told the Business Post.

“We decided to build the doughnut business. In 2018, we were able to eliminate bread completely from production. We started to focus solely on doughnuts once the pandemic began and we eliminated the other confectionery.”

The decision looks smart in hindsight: Kelly’s sells a lot of doughnuts, but sticking all of their eggs in one basket was stressful for the youngest Kelly – who was mindful of the fate of the company’s staff, which now numbers 38. He knew that their futures were somewhat reliant on the product.

“We’d been making bread since 1910. Stopping and doing something completely new was a big change. The accountants were telling us we’d either go out of business doing what we were doing or go out of business doing something new,” Kelly said.

“It has grown immensely since. It has been a good change, albeit a different business model. We used to make 40 or 50 different products in one day. Now it’s much more streamlined, with only two or three at a time.”

Kelly joined the business straight from college, having studied marketing in Waterford Institute of Technology before joining the company. He’s 32 now and more aware of the scale of the decision he made as a fresh graduate.

“It looks ballsy because it paid off, but it could have gone another way,” he said.

Beyond the gumption, Kelly also got assistance from Enterprise Ireland. He and his colleagues have been through multiple programmes with the agency, including its business navigator programme.

“At the minute we’re looking at what supports are available to us, how best to use them, and plugging them into the calendar. The courses they have are great – I’ve picked up some great learning, and the networking we do on the courses is really helpful,” he said.

Kelly is confident at building out the business further, particularly in sales to British customers, and has plans to keep innovating.

“We’re looking to automate a bit more to keep us competitive as it will give us more capacity. It’s important that we keep our flexibility. We’re a niche product with quality ingredients and hand finishing,” he said.

“For us, it’s about finding the right companies to work with. We develop ranges for customers, making sure the range is bespoke and the shop down the road isn’t selling the same product as them.”

This Making it Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland