Meet the mumpreneurs: Irene Queally, director and founder of Pip & Pear
WHO: Irene Queally, owner of Pip & Pear, an Irish-produced chilled baby food "the guilt-free alternative to home cooking" and mum to Luca (6) and Tilda (3). Queally studied Business, French and Italian in college before completing further studies in fashion in the London College of Fashion. After meeting her husband she returned home to Waterford.
What makes your product different?
It's very fresh, it's totally different to other products that may have a longer shelf live. We are big grubbers in our family; we love our food and Pip & Pear tastes the closest thing to homemade that I've found. We do the lamb tagine or the chicken casserole and it is essentially just a blitzed down version of an adult dish though without salt and sugar. There's nothing else added to it. I just found that with pouches and jars they didn't represent what I would normally eat. I just didn't think that they tasted anything like you'd make at home yourself and that was my aim with Pip & Pear to have a guilt-free alternative to home cooking.
How did your business evolve?
My family was very involved in the food business though I actually never went down that route until my husband and I opened a restaurant two years ago. When we opened, we put in a children's area and developed a nice children's menu and I started to do the baby food from there. I felt, as a mother, that there wasn't anything out there that I would want to give my kids, and so I just started trying it in the restaurant and it was a great success. People loved it. The only option usually is the baby bowl of mashed potato with soup or gravy on top and usually it's got a lot of salt in it. We wondered if our menu would work as the baby bowl is free but when we started doing the baby meals people loved them, and I was delighted as we were essentially competing with something that is free. Then we decided to do something with this and started packaging and selling the products. When I started down this road I didn't think that this week I'd be launching in Aldi, it's very exciting.
What was the tipping point?
The Blas na hEireann Awards (the country's biggest competition for Irish food producers with over 90 categories and 2,000 entrants) really changed how we started doing things because it was just so well received. When we were on our way to it, I was just praying and hoping and thinking, "oh, please let us win one thing. It would be lovely to win something" And then they called out the bronze for us, and then the silver too and I nearly had a heart attack and when they called gold I couldn't believe it. The baby food is different to other products as it is blind tasted. So it gave us great confidence. All the supermarkets were there and it has really opened doors for us.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known?
I have such a passion for what I do but I suppose I had no idea about timescales. Everything takes longer than you think it will. You're sleeping five and six hours a night just trying to make sure that everything is in line but I do believe it will be worth it in the end if it takes off. You don't know the challenges until they come to you. For example how technically challenging bringing a product to the market would be. It was a huge learning curve. I had to learn everything, from sourcing the right ingredients – Pip & Pear use only Bord Bia approved meat and poultry and organic vegetables – to meeting European Standards for commercially produced baby food – it's in the high risk category. A sample of every single batch we produce has to be sent out for micro testing. Of course price is key, but quality is number one.
What are the benefits of working for yourself?
With working for yourself, it's not just the brand you are putting out there, you're putting yourself out there. You really want the business to work but when you experience success it is a real personal win.
And the drawbacks?
Obviously the hours are long and the rejection can be hard. The failure is your failure. It is a constant search for balance.
How do you balance such a busy schedule?
My husband and I try to have lunch together this gives us time to talk. And in the evening we really make the effort to spend time with the kids. After their bedtime I will often come back down to work. It helps that my husband is such a massive support. He's totally behind me 100 per cent. He helps with everything from sending an email when I can't, to helping with presentations to the luggin' and hauling! It's a bit of a contradiction at the moment as the whole point of Pip & Pear is to give parents a bit more free time and right now it's just a bit hectic but it won't go on like this forever.
What advice would you give to a wannabe entrepreneur?
I would say ask for help. I have yet to find people who don't want to help me. Also take direction from people who know, who have the expertise. I've learned so much from people. And accept support.
What’s next for you?
It's quite exciting I am going to meetings with a european supermarket and it's great to have interest outside of Ireland. As a business it is great to develop beyond the Irish market. It will be a big leap. we're doing smaller volumes at the moment, but we can upscale. It doesn't change anything about how it's manufactured, it's just a bigger pot every time. It's exciting so hopefully something will come of it.
Pip & Pear is available through Aldi supermarkets from Thursday 28th May in conjunction with the Aldi Toddler & Baby event for a limited time while stocks last.