Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Maria Betts, CEO

Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Maria Betts, CEO

Maria Betts is the woman behind Maria Lucia Bakes, a well known Irish brand of granola. 

Following on last week’s post about Jess Murphy, this week is all about Maria Betts. Her story is one I found particularly inspiring as she’s doing something very similar to what I thought I would do. She knew her granola was good, so she simply started producing it in her kitchen.

From selling a few bags at the local weekly market to now selling over 100 tonne per year across the world, Maria Betts has created a one woman empire and this is a story worth sharing. 

As I talk to more and more women, I am feeling hugely empowered by their no nonsense approach to life and business. They just roll their sleeves and get things done and I want to sing their praises loud and proud.  Read on for more about Maria. 

I’m talking to women in the food industry, what brought you into this category and what do you do?

I set up my business, Maria Lucia Bakes, almost five years ago. We began by selling gluten free cereals produced in my kitchen in Rathfarnham, at our local farmers market and it took off from there. Today we have twelve lines in our range, from granolas in different flavours to mueslis and porridge, and we sell them to supermarkets, independent retailers as well as hotels in Ireland and several countries.

My career has taken plenty of twists and turns from retail management to starting my own business in executive coaching & training. During the financial crisis that business was affected by the downturn as companies stopped investing in people, so I found myself with time on my hands wondering what I would do next as I thought after being self employed for so long that I was probably unemployable !I did several courses in London where i learned how to trade the financial markets and traded my own funds full time for four years. 
It was in the summer of 2013 that a friend from Cork came to stay with us for a weekend and I served up some granola that I had made specially for her as she’s gluten intolerant. She loved it so much that I gave her some to take home and she ended up sharing it with her friend who is a coeliac. This lady asked if I could make some for her and she would pay me for it. I suppose a little lightbulb went off in my head and I looked in a few shops to see if she was right that there wasn’t anything quite like it in the market.
 
My next step was to contact our local enterprise office where I availed of one-to-one mentoring to explore the possibility of starting my own food business. Several mentoring sessions later and thorough research of gluten-free trends in Ireland the UK and the US with the help of Bord Bia’s library told me that there was demand for healthy and tasty gluten-free food in a number of countries. 

 

How does your career fulfill you?

I find this business rewarding and fulfilling as it is extremely varied and i get to utilise the skills i have gained throughout my working life. It is challenging and never dull !

What are your ambitions for the next 2 years?

We have recently started working with new distributors in Finland, France and Spain, so our immediate goals are to build good working relationships with our distributors and retailers in each country then to grow brand awareness and secure long term listings within major multiples and in food service.

What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?

Networking within the industry can be extremely helpful, for example, Bord Bia often hold workshops where industry professionals come together and at events like this it is possible to connect with like-minded people facing similar challenges. It’s important to be on people’s radar and to get out and about and build relationships. it’s also an effective way to get leads for growing the business.

Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspires you and why.

That would have to be my mum, who is no longer with us. When i was growing up my family had a tearooms and guesthouse where everything was home made. On school holidays i helped out in the kitchen and loved sampling Mum’s creations. She was a confident cook and loved experimenting with recipes. It’s really only in the last few years that i have followed in her footsteps and get great pleasure out of trialling new recipes.

Have you had to make many sacrifices in your career?

Yes, lots ! Having a business can be all consuming. It can be very hard to switch off even when on holiday so sometimes it feels like you’re on a never ending treadmill. Work life balance is what I aspire to.

Have you had a wow moment to date in your career? If so which one was it and why?

I have had plenty of wow moments, one that stands out for me is when I saw our granola on supermarket shelves in Norway and I had a flashback to my early days at the farmers market and thought how much had changed in the intervening time!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be patient, have a plan and work that plan. Trust your gut because it’s usually right. Network and build strong professional relationships.

What are the top skills required to do your job and why?

Communication skills- We outsource many of the companies activities, so clear and concise communication is vital, especially when people work in different countries/ cultures.
Organisation skills – storing and accessing data in an age of never ending emails and information
Planning skills – having goals and a plan is the best way to cut out the noise and help focus on priorities when busy
Creativity – Bringing something new and innovative or with a twist rather than creating a ‘me too’ product is essential
Leadership- managing people and suppliers or distributors, building trust and emotional connection with the brand is a key skill.

If you could only eat the one cake again, which would it be and why?

That would have to be a slice of moist homemade christmas cake in the winter and light as a feather victoria sponge in summertime !

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