Making it Work

Sisters ready to share their luxury handcrafted chocolate far and wide

Natalie and Karen Keane have a vision for their artisan chocolate company Bean and Goose, with high-quality ingredients and wrappings that tell a contemporary Irish story

Karen and Natalie Keane, sisters and founders of Bean and Goose, Co Wexford: ‘We’re only just getting started.’ Picture: Maura Hickey

Sisters Natalie and Karen Keane still have vivid childhood memories of trips to the sweet shop on a Saturday morning to spend their pocket money. Chocolate tasted different back then.

“And then we grew up, and we became adults, and we realised chocolate wasn’t that beautiful thing any more,” Natalie Keane told the Business Post. “It had become quite cheap, and it wasn’t a thoughtful gift – it actually kind of became the opposite of a thoughtful gift.”

The pair decided to do something about it, and in 2014 they established Bean and Goose in Co Wexford. The company, which has backing from Enterprise Ireland, now employs ten people and sells luxury crafted chocolate manufactured at its 3,500 square feet production unit in Gorey.

The Keanes learned their trade at the hands of Benoit Lorge, the highly-respected French chocolatier based in Kenmare, Co Kerry. They use a traditional technique called hand tempering, moulding the chocolate on marble slabs.

Bean and Goose sources its cocoa from Ecuador and “tiers” its bars with Irish ingredients.

“We want to tell the contemporary Irish story through those ingredients, through the way we make the chocolate and through the artwork we use to wrap our products,” Natalie said.

In the early days, the Keanes sold their chocolate at the Dublin Food Market in Temple Bar every Saturday. “Come rain or shine we’d be there, talking to the customers and taste-testing our products and formats,” Natalie said.

In 2015, they completed the Food Works programme, a scheme to support high-potential food and drink start-ups in Ireland. That was the launchpad they needed to get the business itself off the ground, Karen said.

“We were still in the farmers’ market, but we were growing out our business all the time – looking at where we were going to sell and how we were going to fund it.”

Today, Bean and Goose sells its chocolate to more than 120 independent retailers around Ireland and also retains a network of corporate clients. It markets itself as a quality, thoughtful gift, selling bundles and gift cards through its website. Over recent months, its founders have started planning an accelerated expansion, particularly overseas.

“We’re only just getting started,” Natalie said. “We’re completing our product range, having spent years working out what customers want. And then also we’re now ready to export. And that’s a really big part of our plan now.”

Despite their ambition, the Keanes are passionate about staying true to the principles on which they founded Bean and Goose. “We’re really strong about our vision, and we’re determined to stay focused on integrity,” Karen said. “So we choose our suppliers carefully, and we make sure everyone is paid fairly, and that makes it easier to stay loyal to our values.”

In recent weeks, the company has begun offering tours of its Gorey workshop, which it hopes will open up another revenue stream and grow its reputation. “You can now come along and get to see the chocolate factory,” Natalie said.