WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – FLORRIE PURCELL, ARTISAN PRODUCER
Florrie Purcell founded The Scullery, an Irish condiment institution.
She is the undisputed Irish queen of cucumber relish. You will find some of her work under Lidl’s own brand, think the sweetcorn relish and that gorgeous jalapeno relish too. Florrie Purcell launched The Scullery in 2004, although her range of products is bigger than ever, it is still 100% natural and handmade. Florie has managed that difficult transition from tiny artisanal production to nationwide provider of some of our finest products. She has done so smoothly and while keeping her base values which I greatly admire.
From her first Christmas pudding back at the restaurant, she has come a mad long way when you see her full blown range and also the products she produces for others. Wonderful, successful and inspiring career.
I’m talking to women in the food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I was born in Nenagh, Co Tipp and despite having lived and had businesses elsewhere in Ireland and abroad I think it’s probably fate that I ended up back home to start The Scullery.
My mother, also called Florrie, was a keen cook and some of my earliest memories involve helping her in the kitchen. I can still vividly recall the smell of Christmas pudding wafting through the house as it was cooking on the Aga, she made it to her mother’s recipe, who made it from her mother’s, and it is this same pudding that I make for my customers every Christmas.
I decided that food was my calling in life, and went to Cathal Brugha Street to study Hotel and Catering Management. After that, I worked for a while in Ireland, but I had a yearning to travel, to experience other cultures, but, more importantly for me, to expand my knowledge of tastes and flavours from around the World. I lived and worked in both America and Australia, earning and learning!
I came home to Ireland in 1996 and opened a restaurant in Tullamore in Offaly, called The Scullery. It was a great success, but I always felt I wanted to do more, reach more people, show them that food didn’t have to be boring or mundane. In 1998 I started making Christmas puddings commercially, while I was still running the restaurant, and they flew off the shelf. I knew that there was a good business in my grasp, but I also realised that my puddings were only a sound commercial proposition for two or three months of the year. I needed something to fill the gap. I always had made my own relishes for the restaurant, from recipes that I’d developed from my travels, so I decided to start making these.
They were also very popular so I was now at a crossroads. I made the decision to give up the restaurant as I could not give both businesses my all, and I’m very much an all or nothing kind of person! I sold the restaurant and relocated to Nenagh to start my next chapter.
It was a risk, giving up a viable enterprise and stepping into the unknown, but I don’t regret a second of it.
How does your career fulfill you?
I have a massive passion for food and new products, and I get so excited that I am able to bring a product from an idea in my mind to a jar on the shelf!
I find it so satisfying that tonight someone will be opening a jar of my pasta sauce for example, and making a delicious meal to feed family, friends or just themselves, and I am part of that experience!
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Florrie Purcell?
I would like to keep expanding my range with new products, broadening my customer base, reaching out to more people. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s that though it’s always good to have plans, it’s also necessary to be able to adapt to what’s happening in the world. Our projected production schedule changed unrecognisably due to Covid 19. Demand for food service products in delis etc slumped but grocery sales increased, and we were in a position to respond to the change, survive, and dare I say thrive.
In your opinion, what challenges women face in the food industry?
To be honest, the same challenges that face men. I don’t think my business would be in a terribly different position if I was a man. I fully support the whole women in business concept but even more than that I am an advocate of the people in business ideal. We are all human beings at the end of the day. I believe that the quality of the product or service is a far more important consideration than the gender of the person who made it.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
Breda Maher from Cooleeney Cheese is a constant inspiration to me. She and her family have built a brand that is recognised around the World. She has never compromised on quality, and more importantly, she is still the same lovely person she always has been. She has been so helpful to me over the years. She loves to see fellow food businesses thrive. And of course she’s from Tipperary, only adding to her list of attributes!!
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think that women are quite well represented in the food industry actually, especially at artisan level. When it comes to the big players, perhaps the ratios are less in our favour, I can’t honestly say why this is, or indeed how to have more balanced numbers. For example, only three out of fourteen of the board members of Bord Bia are women.
I strongly disagree with the likes of gender quotas however. Everyone should be entitled to achieve their potential based on their own hard work and dedication, not on their gender.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
There have been so many along the way, that it seems impossible to pick just one. Getting the contract to supply Lidl over ten years ago was a huge achievement. Securing the world contract to supply Guinness condiments last year was one of the proudest days in my professional life. That one of the world’s most recognizable brands would trust a girl from Tipperary with their precious iconic logo and put it on jars of my product was the ultimate seal of approval.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Always trust your gut. Every time I did it was always the right decision.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Determination, dedication and flexibility.
Determination to succeed, dedication to achieve that success, and flexibility to adapt to make that success a reality.
What is the one ingredient you can’t do without?
In work, probably tomatoes!
In life, definitely kindness!