jason coyle holding mr. crumb products
Jason Coyle, director, Mr. Crumb. — Mr. Crumb

Americans are expected to consume about $96 million worth of stuffing this Thanksgiving. Ireland’s Mr. Crumb wants a share of their stomach.

That this family-run stuffing brand birthed in the rural Irish village of Finea cracked big U.S. retail at all, landing in 150 Alberstons supermarkets this year, is a story in itself.

While scrappy upstarts are no doubt changing the grocery aisle, Mr. Crumb made the still-hard leap that many small brands don’t by reimaging stuffing, a product category dominated by a few market giants that had grown, well, stale, Jason Coyle, company director, told CO—.

Coyle details Mr. Crumb’s journey abroad to Albertsons, starting with zero “know-how or contacts to enter the U.S. market” and conducting stuffing taste tests at the Culinary Institute of America to gauge the palette of American consumers, to securing shelf placement in 80 Oregon and 70 Pennsylvania retail doors, sharing how “the opportunity has not come without its challenges.”

How did Mr. Crumb come about?

Mr. Crumb started in 1996 when my father Bernard spotted a niche in the market. As a van delivery person for a bakery, at Christmas, people would ask him to buy older, harder bread, rather than the soft fresh bread that he was delivering.

On inquiring, he learned that people were buying this bread because it was better for making fresh breadcrumbs, which they’d then use to make stuffing and Christmas puddings at home. He therefore started buying bread directly, ageing it, crumbing it at home in a blender and selling it in bags.

He then decided to make the stuffing himself. Not having a background in cooking, he copied his mother’s recipe and method of making the stuffing she made every Sunday. Sunday dinner in Ireland traditionally was boiled chicken, boiled potatoes, boiled carrots and sage and onion stuffing cooked over the fire to give flavor.

The rest is history. Mr. Crumb is the number one category brand in the U.K. and Ireland where it is available at all retailers year-round, and sold beside the fresh chickens.

The product has gone on to win multiple food awards including ‘Best Irish Food Product’ at the U.K. Great Taste Awards.

How did your foray into the U.S. market begin?

Back around 2014, Health magazine [in the] U.S. traveled the world in search of “7 Thanksgiving must-haves.” They somehow picked up Mr. Crumb stuffing in London and gave us a great review. On the back of that article, we were approached by several U.S. retail chains directly, but as a small company located in a rural village in Ireland, we didn’t have the know-how, or, importantly, the contacts, to enter the U.S. market.

What was the opportunity you saw in the U.S. market?

The feedback we were getting from U.S. consumers is that the stuffing category in the U.S. hadn’t changed in 25 years and was basically two brands that you have to cook on the stove top. Consumers expressed interest in our products as they are convenient — you don’t need to add anything and they cook in five minutes in the microwave or oven — and they’re made with fresh, natural ingredients and they taste delicious.

Mr. Crumb is a premium, handmade, gourmet brand aimed at shoppers who like to cook at home.

We sauté fresh onions, herbs and spices in 100% butter from Irish grass-fed cows before mixing in fresh breadcrumb.

So Mr. Crumb fits today’s desire for convenient food, as good as you would make at home yourself, and that tastes great.

We decided to bring our product to the U.S. based on consumer interest and the fact that there was a gap in the market for a stuffing that’s not just for the holidays.

Jason Coyle, director, Mr. Crumb

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Ireland-based Mr. Crumb is paving its way into the U.S. market by taking steps and learning along the way. For more tips on overseas exporting, read more here.


Cheers,
CO—

What was the strategic thinking guiding your U.S. push?

We decided to bring our product to the U.S. based on consumer interest and the fact that there was a gap in the market for a stuffing that’s not just for the holidays.

Also, outside of Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. are the two other nations that love stuffing and roasts. Very few companies have come to the U.S. with a frozen food product, so maybe we made a bold move, but we’re one of the very few doing it.

To ensure that our product met the taste expectations of U.S. consumers, we carried out taste tests with the Culinary Institute of America.

However, we are essentially a startup in terms of our size, so we’re trying to follow a strategic approach with our U.S. entry to ensure that we are here for the long term.

What was the critical step that led to getting Mr. Crumb on Albertsons’ store shelves?

Based on consumer contacts, I had been cold calling and talking to various U.S. retail buyers for a number of years; and although they all loved the products at tastings, without saying it, I got the sense that they were reluctant to deal with a small foreign manufacturer directly. For that reason, we started working directly with a broker who had the right contacts with the buyers.

The key difference was that the buyer knew the brokers, whereas they didn’t know us, and therefore they were more receptive to the brokers’ approach.

 mr. crumb products on supermarket shelves
Mr. Crumb found that the key step to getting on U.S. shelves in Albertsons was to work with a broker who was already familiar with the buyer, in order to facilitate a connection. — Mr. Crumb

Is placement at a national U.S. grocer game-changing, or potentially game-changing, to your business?

Albertsons Portland has an eye for innovative products and was generous enough to give us a chance, which is really appreciated. They are a great customer for us and have been very supportive.

The opportunity hasn’t come without its challenges, and there has being a definite learning curve.

The U.S. retail market is a challenging, high-cost market to negotiate, so this is the beginning of a long journey for us.

U.S. retail is definitely more complicated than European retail, where the relationship is directly between the retailers and the manufacturers and where you deliver directly to retailer depots.

The challenge for anyone entering U.S. retail is that you generally need to have a retailer, a distributor and possibly a broker, all interested in you at the same time, and it’s difficult to proceed without actually having these three partners in place, and hard to get one to take a chance on you without the involvement of the other two.

Also, once you get the product on-shelf, there’s another challenge in how to get the product moving off-shelf unless you have major advertising funds or unless you happen on the right product at the exact right time.

Normally a product like Mr. Crumb would start in speciality retail and then progress to the larger retailers. We are working the other way around and using the beachhead that Albertsons has given us to now move into specialty retail.

What are Mr. Crumb’s U.S. expansion goals?

Mr. Crumb’s long-term goal is to be the number one premade, specialty stuffing brand in the U.S. market, and to create jobs locally in the U.S.

Ideally, we’d like to be in thousands of stores by holidays 2020, but importantly in the right stores with foodie customers and within constrained geographical parameters, rather than spreading ourselves too thin. [We’d like to] hopefully get to the stage soon whereby we can set up a manufacturing base in the U.S. to create jobs locally and bring us closer to our customers.

We are currently actively seeking partners, brokers, retailers and distributors to roll the products out from our warehousing hubs on both the East and West Coasts of the U.S.

We are also very interested in talking to established U.S. retail or foodservice manufacturers who are interested in supplying innovative food products into the U.K. and Ireland.

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Published November 25, 2019