Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Carol Banahan, Managing Director
Who is Carol Banahan, you ask? Well, if you cook with bone broth, the chance is, she’s been in your stew!
Much like Maria Betts, Carol Banahan was once a trader and swapped careers and industry and makes it look easy. I love those stories of huge career changes, they make me feel there is hope for me (and you) yet!
Carol Banahan is a member of the Guild Of Fine Foods, NI Good Food , Slow Food, and Butchery Excellence. You will find her products in most good butchers around the 32 counties and some other retailers listed here.
I’m talking to women in the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I was born and raised in Dublin and subsequently moved to Canada after college to spread my wings and look for exciting career opportunities. I started working in the financial industry and over 25 years built a great career working in the “real” stock market. I spent 17 of those years trading stocks on all the major financial markets. My last 6 years of my career were spent working in Vancouver managing a very busy equity trading desk for the investment management arm of one of Canada’s largest banks. Our average daily trading volumes were $50-75 million and frequently I was responsible for managing trades north of C$1 billion. For most of those years, I thoroughly enjoyed what I did but for the last couple of years, it was getting more stressful and I started to think about wanting to take my life in a completely different direction, a direction that would ultimately be more fulfilling and more “me”.
For a long time, myself and my husband wanted to make the move back home to Ireland and that is what we did in 2014. We took a couple of years out of our careers to set up a home and settle back into life in Ireland. We decided to settle in Inishowen in Donegal. I have always had a huge passion for good food and nutrition so I knew that I wanted to make a big career change and start my own food business. In addition, I have always loved making my own stocks and broths and could not find any good, all-natural products here in Ireland. It was then that I decided to start Carol’s Stock Market (name is a nod to my old career) approx. 3 years ago. I started off making beef and chicken stock in my own kitchen and selling it at local farmers’ markets. I got amazing feedback from customers so following on from this success, I worked with the Foodovation Centre at the NWRC in Derry along with help from Chef Brian McDermott to help upscale production, develop a couple of new products and start distributing to shops around Ireland. Following on from that, I set up my own manufacturing facility in Derry two years ago and recently had to double production space to keep up with the demand.
How does your career fulfill you?
I have absolutely loved building a business from the ground up. It has been enormously challenging but even more so rewarding. I love going into work every day and making stock, broths, and gravies. I oversee every single batch that we make and still find it exciting when I lift the lid off the pot and smell and taste the nourishing goodness that comes with a long slow simmer. I have managed to build an amazing small team and we all work really well together. There is no boss/employee hierarchy, we just all muck in and get the work done.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Carol Banahan?
I think 2020 is going to be a fantastic year for the business. We are starting off on a great note with some new product development to add to our current range of 7 products. I will be collaborating with BBC Chef Paula McIntyre on two wonderful and exciting new broths that we hope to release in a couple of months. These new products will be a first to the market in Ireland. I am looking forward to continuing to grow Carol’s Stock Market organically and hope to further grow exports to the UK mainland.
In your opinion, what challenges do women face in the food industry in Ireland?
Having spent my past career working in one of the most male-dominated businesses and managing to succeed in that challenging environment, I have not noticed any challenges specific to women in the food business. I think the food business, in general, is notoriously difficult in Ireland whether you are male or female. I think it requires someone with massive passion for what they are doing and a positive attitude to keep pushing forward.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
I have met so many inspiring women since I started on this new journey but I will go back to where it all began for me when I attended the Dublin Cookery School in late 2014. Linda Booth who runs the school really inspired me as she started her own business from scratch also and continues to inspire so many people that go through her doors.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
We should all promote and help each other as best we can. Be a mentor to another female who is starting out and offer to support someone who is not as far along on their journey as you are. It is amazing what a huge difference you can make by helping someone else when they are struggling with something.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
There have been so many proud moments thus far from winning national awards to watching sales grow month to month but when a customer tells me they love using my products, that makes all the tough times worthwhile and really motivates me to keep growing the business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything does not have to be perfect. It is perfectly ok to make mistakes, they provide such a valuable learning experience to help you grow and develop.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
I always say since starting my business, I have become a professional problem solver. I have encountered so many challenges along the way but have persevered until a solution has been found. You need to be very positive and forward-thinking and be someone who does not give up easily.
What is your favourite meal to make?
I love a proper old school Sunday roast dinner. Sunday dinner was my favourite dinner growing up and my Mum always cooked a lovely roast with all the trimmings. My in-laws come for Sunday dinner very frequently and I love to cook for them. I have to say making the gravy is the best bit because if you roast your meat well, you have the perfect drippings in your pan to add to one of my delicious stocks, a couple of splashes of this and that and you have the crowning glory of the Sunday meal.