Tuam woman Helen McFarland established Galway Handmade Chocolates seven years ago, after noticing during a trip around local markets that there wasn’t a lot of focus on handmade chocolates and sweets.
“I had gone to a few different markets and no one was doing this. I had recently been let go from my job…it was 2010, there wasn’t much work going in Galway at the time. I decided I wanted to start something myself,” she says.
Ms McFarland explains that she always had an interest in making confectionery. “My mother baked a lot. When I could stand beside her on a chair, I was helping her. And of course I always liked chocolate!”
Initially, she had friends and family try her products. “They were giving me ideas and it was great to try different flavours out on them. What began as a small selection of products has now grown to a huge selection.” Ms McFarland has over 50 different flavours of fudge alone.
She has made her name by displaying her products at local markets. She stresses that getting into the Galway markets was instrumental in growing her business, with ‘market research’ taking place right there on the market stalls.
“If I get asked three times for the same flavour I’ll make it,” she explains. Some of the more unusual requests have been for sea salt and chilli flavoured fudge. “But they are hugely popular. I got a request a few months ago for Wild Turkey fudge, the bourbon variety. It is also very popular.”
All products are made in Tuam. “Everything is made from scratch. I do it all myself. I do buy in Belgian chocolate for lollies and truffles but I do make them from scratch with it. I also make a raw chocolate which is dairy free, low in sugar – a healthy chocolate!”
When starting her business, support from the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board was invaluable, says Ms McFarland. “They were so encouraging from the start.”
The Made In Galway group, Galway’s craft, food and retail directory, have also been hugely supportive, she says. “Made in Galway have been brilliant. The team are very encouraging. They organise a fair in the Black Box every November and I’ve done that every year since I’ve started. It has been a major help and the event itself is so well promoted by them.”
As well as proving popular at markets and fairs, Helen’s chocolate creations are a hit at certain times of the year. She has made creations for weddings and christenings but in recent times she has seen a major increase in business around Halloween time. “Halloween is getting so much bigger in Ireland. I invested in different moulds from chocolate headstones to chocolate spiders. It was crazy but the kids really enjoy them.” Other times of year are popular too, including Easter, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. “Christmas time has got very busy the last few years,” she adds.
Plans for the future include setting up a unit or shop so customers can come to see her chocolate creations.
“This would be the dream. I make everything in Tuam but I then need to travel to clients or fairs to get the product out to people. Having a place where customers can come and see me would be fantastic. People would also be able to see their chocolate creation being made.”
For more information, find Galway Handmade Chocolates on Facebook, call 087-9420061 or email firstname.lastname@example.org