Crilly’s pick and mix from Newry is proving sweet in China, the Middle East and Europe

Interview 5-12-19 SM Farm

Crilco Confectionery is well on the way to becoming one of Northern Ireland’s leading smaller food exporters to China. The company, based outside Newry, has just won a second major deal for the supply of a range of boiled sweets from a new customer in Shanghai. The latest deal is the second significant business there in the past year.

The latest contract is valued at £250,000 and will see the company’s successful and extensive range of confectionery on sale across China, especially in pick and mix outlets which are especially popular with customers there.

Sweet lovers there are loving increasingly the company’s boiled sweets – mint humbugs, rhubarb and custard, rosy apples, blackcurrant and liquorice and clove drops – long popular in the UK and Ireland.

Crilco is Ireland’s only manufacturer of quality boiled sweets and other confectionery. The family-owned and managed business has just invested in new production and wrapping machinery to enable it to increase substantially its output of sweets.

David Crilly, director of Crilco, says the latest business in China followed its participation in a major European industry trade show.

“We met representatives from our latest customer at ISM in Cologne, one of a number of confectionery business shows we attend every year, including a hugely successful event in Shanghai,” he said. “They were interested in our range and enjoyed the quality and flavours of our products and subsequently visited our plant in Newry for further discussions.

“As a result of these talks and their tour of the factory with the new high-speed production and the wrapping machinery, which enables sweets quickly and in much larger volumes, they placed two significant orders,” adds Mr Crilly.

The new business is a substantial boost for the ambitious and progressive enterprise as it seeks to grow business in China to around £1 million over the next 12 months. The company is supplying eight different confectionery lines to the new customer in Shanghai.

Mr Crilly continues: “We are investing substantially in productivity and marketing in key markets such as China to develop the exciting opportunities for our range of confectionery. It’s a market that requires commitment, patience, speed of response and flexibility.

“Our investment in new machinery, which is being assisted by business development agency Invest NI, will be supported by the acquisition of new and much larger warehousing. This enables us to exploit other opportunities we’ve pinpointed in China and other markets and to meet demands for greater volumes,” he adds.

“The business in China is the latest outcome of our extensive marketing campaign in global markets. In addition to a strong presence in Great Britain, we also sell to customers in the Republic of Ireland, the US, Australia, Germany, Italy, France and the Czech Republic from our factory in Newry,” he continues.

The company, which was established in 1974, currently employs 22 people in the town.

In addition to an extensive portfolio of boiled confectionery, Crilly’s produces such long-standing favourites as jelly babies, jelly beans, cough drops, wine gums and vanilla fudge, all handmade in the factory at Flagstaff, just outside Newry. Pear drops remain the company’s biggest seller.

While much of the confectionery appears under the Crilly’s own brand, a broad range of sweets is also made for other manufacturers in Britain and Ireland.

“We’ve won some really exciting orders in China in the last few years,” Mr Crilly says. “It’s become our fastest growing international market because of our reputation for consistently high quality and delicious sweets,” he adds.

“We are confident that our business there will double by 2021. We’ve provided bulk wrapped boiled sweets as well as a range of pre-packs to the distributors for a vast network of retail stores, including pick and mix outlets, which are very popular there,” he continues.

Mr Crilly joined the business in 1999 and now shares decision making with father Peter, the founder of the business, and brother Ciaran. Peter set up the business in Newry city centre in 1974 on the back of experience with Mars in Slough and from making traditional rock and boiled sweets at Blackpool.

He had gone to England from Newry, his home town, at the age of 16 in search of employment opportunities

“Our business has grown as the sweet industry has changed over the years. We’ve become a nimble company close to our customers in key markets. This enables us to stay abreast of trends and to seize opportunities quickly that we pinpoint,” he adds.

Expertise in developing its own recipes for sweets also means it can respond quickly with original products such as the current trend towards alcohol-styled sweets like gin and tonic, mojito, whiskey and cola, and prosecco gums.

The company, which still uses the old traditional methods of mixing sugar and glucose and adding natural flavours, currently produces 50,000 bags of sweets every day, 12 million a year. It has also developed gluten-free varieties.

“Great Britain remains a hugely important market for us,” he says. “We are investing time and resources in a marketing drive to grow sales there, especially over the next 12 months,” he adds.

“As a direct result of this initiative, we’ve identified significant opportunities there for our product range,” continues Mr Crilly. “While we aim to continue developing exports, the stronger presence in Britain should help offset whatever a no-deal Brexit is likely to throw up,” he says.

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