THE HAPPY PEAR – the plant-based food business of Wicklow twins Stephen and David Flynn – has grown far beyond its humble beginnings over the last decade.
Starting from a vegetable shop in Greystones in 2004, the business now has three cafés and its own food range. But that may be about as far as it goes.
Last year, the company said that it was looking to open another Dublin café, however Stephen Flynn said a bricks-and-mortar expansion was no longer on the cards.
“I think we had aspirations but then we changed our minds,” Flynn told Fora.
The decision came after the twins had a chance meeting with Clane-born management guru Charles Handy last year.
“We ended up going over to Cambridge and sitting down to talk to him, addressing the issue of when enough is enough and figuring out what we really want,” Flynn said.
“And we kinda realised that maybe we don’t want to open more shops for the time being, because it means that we’d have to be in too many places.
“For me, I want to have a lifestyle that I love. Being able to swim in the sea in the morning, take my kids to school, have dinner with my family in the evening – they’re my priorities. So we’re not going to expand at the moment.”
In 2016, the Happy Pear opened a new 14,000 sq ft production facility in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, and last year raised €1.5 million in funding to open a new store and café in the Round Tower in Clondalkin.
This expansion brought the company’s total workforce to around 170, but Flynn said the duo were concerned about overstretching themselves and their concept. The company posted a narrow loss in 2016 after a profitable previous year.
“I think we want to make sure the shops we have are special, and every time you open another one you dilute it,” he said.
“There’s a saying, you can’t have many holy mountains, you can only have one or two. There was never a five-year plan. We were just doing our thing and seeing what happened, rather than thinking about how we could expand.”
Although there may not be a new shop or café in the works, the Happy Pear still has plenty going on – and Flynn says that the focus right now is on expanding the business’ food range.
“I guess when we decided that we didn’t want to open more shops, we thought it’d be easier to grow through products because it doesn’t draw mine and Dave’s time in the same way,” he said.
“It’s a way of scaling without needing to scale me and Dave, which you can’t really do. We can’t be everywhere at once.”
Flynn was speaking to Fora at the fifth anniversary of the Food Academy – a joint programme supported by Bord Bia, the Local Enterprise Network and SuperValu.
The Happy Pear has been part of the programme for the past four years, bringing a range of branded products into supermarkets across Ireland, despite initial reservations.
“Our younger brother Darragh had the idea of working with SuperValu, but me and Dave thought it’d be selling out, that a big supermarket would squeeze us. But it ended up being one of the best things we could have done,” Flynn said.
The Happy Pear now sells nearly 30 branded products in SuperValu stores across the country and has just announced that a smaller range will be available in Waitrose stores in the UK from next month.
The range includes products such as hummus, pesto and granola, as well as full meals, and there are plans to introduce another 10 to 15 products later this year.
Deciding how to develop new products for the range involves some straightforward market research, according to Flynn.
“We spent a couple of years publishing two recipes a week on YouTube, so we were able to see what works and what doesn’t work,” he said.
“We can see straight away what gets views, what gets likes, what gets comments. Our chickpea curry meal came as a result of that, because we had nearly a million views on that video.”
Flynn added that there’s been a “massive change” in the Irish food scene since he and his brother started the Happy Pear.
“When we started 14 years ago, we just wanted to promote natural, healthier eating. We never labelled our business as vegetarian or vegan, but now it seems to be a lot more popular and I think it’s here to stay.
“When our first cookbook came out, Penguin printed 6,000 copies and thought that we might sell that over 10 years, but we sold that in six weeks.
“It just shows the appetite that Irish people have for something different. It’s amazing to see that shift.”