'People think it's great when you're in 60 shops - but I'm not pulling a massive salary'

Dorene Mallon of The Farmer’s Daughter talks about making it in the food industry.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

MEATH NATIVE DORENE Mallon founded The Farmer’s Daughter burger brand two years ago.

Today, the startup’s range of gluten-, water- and additive-free beef burgers have been stocked by SuperValu, and it will soon roll out a frozen range in 50 Tesco stores at the of August.

In September, the firm will feature in Lidl’s nationwide ‘Best of Ireland’ campaign.

As part of our weekly question-and-answer series, we spoke to Mallon about how she’s never done a job she hated, learning to trust employees and why people with a food business idea should just get on and do it.

Here’s what she had to say:

What was your earliest or childhood ambition?

I think I wanted to be a professional tennis player. I was mad about it when I was younger. I don’t play at all any more, but I’m glued to Wimbledon.

What’s the worst job/task you’ve ever had to do?

To be honest, I can’t actually think of anything that was really bad. I’ve always loved working. I’ve worked since I was very young. I’ve done a huge variety of jobs from charity work to being a guide on a bus tour company throughout college.

I do remember dropping a salad over somebody when I was waitressing, but they were thankfully very understanding. I remember doing awkward things, but they were all part of growing up. I didn’t ever hate any work I did.

dorene mallon picture Dorene Mallon
Source: Farmer's Daughter

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in your industry?

I think the one thing is to do it and get started. I think a lot of people have ideas but they don’t pursue them and end up never knowing what might have been.

I think that can be one of the worst things, not actually pursuing an idea that you had and that you wanted to do. So what if you fail? I think you’re better off just doing it.

It’s definitely the harder choice. A lot of people think, “I’ll have it easy running my own business and it’ll be easier to manage my own time.”

To be honest, it’s much harder to be running your own business than to be getting a pay cheque off some company every month, where you know what your salary is and what you’re going to be getting. You need to be up for that kind of challenge.

The food industry, no matter what, really is volume-driven. You might have a niche product and it might be very good and in X amount of stores. But you really need volume in it to earn some money.

People think it sounds great when you’re in 50 or 60 shops and you have your own product range and all that, but I’m two years into it and not pulling a massive salary.

You learn as you go along that to make something profitable and pay yourself a wage, there’s not many ways around the food industry without getting volume into it.

How would you describe your work/management style?

I think my management style is very democratic. I have to believe in my staff and believe they’re doing the right job and what’s best for the company. Because I have such a small company, I don’t have time to micro-manage my staff.

Some of them ask if they can do this or that. I always say, “If this makes you do your job more efficiently or makes your happier in the long-term to complete your job properly, then I’m happy.”

I hope it encourages them to stay. I do believe managers these days have to become more trusting of their staff.

How do you choose how to promote in your business?

For a company like ours, which doesn’t have a massive budget, the easiest way I promote is by connecting with the consumer.

The brand is authentic: I am a farmer’s daughter, it is an Irish beef brand. It’s produced in Ireland and there are no hidden nasties in our products.

We do try and connect with our customer in our honest approach and the way we produce our food and the way we like to talk about our products.

No matter what, we will not add any water or gluten or additives or preservatives to our range. Being honest to the consumer and communicating that with them, mainly through social media, is how we plan to continue.

farmer tweet
Source: The Farmers Daughter/Twitter

What bad work (or business) habit have you had to kick?

I found that I generally have about 10 things going on in my head at any one time, so I’d start working on one thing and suddenly go, ‘”Oh sugar, I need to finish that,” or “I need to finish that email.”

At this stage, because I have to manage my time very efficiently, I have to keep reminding myself to complete one task first instead of trying to complete 10 at one time. Otherwise I end up half-doing 10 things.

If there was one person in the world you could hire for your board, who would it be and why?

If I could get her to commit to working full-time, it would be my mother, Carol. She’s an unbelievable salesperson and brilliant at managing people and she’s an incredible communicator.

And you can’t beat people with experience. But she wants to be living her life now, she doesn’t want to be working full-time.

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