Santa flies in from Finland with early present for Portadown bakery

Gillian Castles
Gillian Castles
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There was an early Christmas present last week for Portadown businesswoman Gillian Castles. Santa came early in the shape of an exciting business venture Europe.

Gillian, commercial manager at the town’s successful Holmes Bakery, signed up with the Santa Claus Foundation in Finland, an international charity that’s acclaimed worldwide for its global charity work for children in the Third World.

The important European franchise deal with the respected foundation for the small Co Armagh bakery means that the official Santa Claus, Finland logo will be featuring on a range of premium hand baked goods, the success of which will also benefit the charity’s work.

Gillian explains: “The foundation, which is based in Santa’s true homeland of Finland, is a well-known organisation aiming to spread Santa’s universal message of love and good will to the children of the world by advocating for those most in need. Finnish President, Sauli Niniinisto, is currently the patron of the charitable foundation.

“The values of the Santa Claus Foundation are goodwill, authenticity, cooperation and joy. Purchasing a product or service marked with the Santa Claus Finland logo helps educate children in poorer countries such as Nepal, India and Africa through the provision of supplies such textbooks.”

Holmes, one of Northern Ireland’s leading locally-owned bakeries, has been awarded the licence to produce three products under the Santa Claus, Finland brand for the UK and EU markets.

The team of bakers at Holmes is crafting Christmas bakery favourites, including Christmas pudding, mince pies and shortbread biscuits, under the agreement negotiated with Newry businessman Des Campbell who is responsible for franchising deals at the foundation.

Business development agency Invest NI helped set up the contact between Holmes and Campbell.

Gillian continues: “We were thrilled when Des Campbell chose our company from the profiles provided to him from the Invest NI food marketing team and approached us about working with the foundation to provide premium bakery products. It’s such a powerful and inspirational brand. As a result, we have been working with the foundation’s team on developing three products and on shaping our packaging in line with the foundation’s specific requirements.

“It’s an immensely exciting business opportunity for us to engage with what is probably the world’s best known and most loved brand. What’s even better is that we are also supporting the foundation and its charitable works. That’s surely what Christmas is all about.

“The agreement will see our premium baked goods on sale especially in markets outside Northern Ireland in what is a very significant opportunity for us to grow our business in both short and longer terms,” she adds.

The successful bakery was acquired in 2009 by Harold and Daphne Irwin, Gillian’s parents, founders of Woodwin Catering in the town. Holmes had originally been established in 1937.

Harold, who has vast experience in the bakery industry, revamped the operation and laid the foundations for the existing business which is now among Northern Ireland’s most successful bakeries especially in export markets. Harold and wife Daphne continue to run the business, which operates from a modern bakery, with Gillian.

The agreement with the foundation is seen by Gillian as a significant development within its strategic focus on growing sales outside Northern Ireland. It already supplies a number of retailers in Britain, including on-line shopping site Ocado, with a range of products, many of which have won prestigious UK Great Taste Awards. It recently signed a significant deal to supply 10 lines of handcrafted products to Shoprite, the Isle of Man’s leading supermarket chain. In addition, the bakery supplies a top retailer in Texas.

David Campbell, who has a background in manufacturing, marketing and licensing and is based in Northern Ireland, was appointed by the foundation to take on its franchising role in early 2019. “I’ve been especially keen to involve Northern Ireland companies in working with the foundation since then. There are many excellent food processors here.

“I was aware of the outstanding quality and taste of the baked goods from Holmes and was delighted to reach an agreement with such a successful and responsive local producer. I am confident that the franchise agreement will be mutually beneficial for the foundation and Holmes bakery. When you buy a product with the official Santa Claus logo on it not only are you supporting a local business but the Santa Claus Foundation’s charitable aims.

“I am confident that the franchise agreement will be mutually beneficial for the foundation and Holmes bakery. When you buy a product with the official Santa Claus logo on it not only are you supporting a local business but the Santa Claus Foundation’s charitable aims.

“I’ve certainly found the bakery enthusiastic about the opportunity and quick in responding to the foundation’s specific requirement,” he adds.