Aisling Flanagan talks to us about the gorgeous Christmas gift range developed by Velvet Cloud in collaboration with small artisan food producers, and the importance of shopping local this season.
Small artisan producers with limited or no advertising budget need to be incredibly canny when it comes to building awareness of their products and competing with larger food brands. We’ve seen some very innovative uses of social media channels over the years, as artisans and retailers build meaningful relationships with customers and suppliers on an incremental basis, gradually growing their networks over time.
This is an area where Mayo based Velvet Cloud has always thrived. Co-founder Aisling Flanagan tells us that the small enterprise she runs with her husband Michael, has been active online from the very beginning, posting their evocative ‘Good Morning Mayo’ videos a few times a week, while also providing virtual updates from the farm on a weekly basis.
“We found that videos from the farm and from beautiful Mayo were the ones that resonated best with people and tended to get most engagement,” says Aisling. “During lockdown we had a bit more time to do these, and people had a bit more time to watch. It was also lovely to feel you were making people smile in a small way.”
Good morning Mayo 💚♥️🐑 pic.twitter.com/7G0VTUuo7S
— Velvet Cloud (@VelvetCloud_ie) November 2, 2021
Prior to the pandemic, 40% of Velvet Cloud’s sales were to the restaurant sector, but they lost this without warning overnight when restaurants were forced to close in the first lockdown. For a small, relatively young business such a loss was devastating. “Our son, who is studying computer science, had been suggesting we set up an ecommerce site for some time,” Aisling reflects, “but we hadn’t made it a priority. We struggled a bit during the pandemic, but once we set up a rudimentary website, we learned a lot and began to see the huge potential that e-commerce presents to small businesses.”
As part of that learning process, they decided it would be interesting to try out the development of a variety of different sheep’s milk related products for Christmas. In putting their unique seasonal offering together, Velvet Cloud collaborated with other small artisan businesses in their network, including Cocoa Atelier, Dalkey Soaps, Chef Anthony Printer and Fiona Scott of FS Design.
The idea stemmed from an initiative last year, when co-founders Aisling and Michael asked Cocoa Atelier to make some chocolates from their sheep’s milk. “We wanted to give something unique to our most loyal customers. A lot of those customers came back to us asking us where they could buy the chocolates, so we began to see that there might be a new opportunity there.”
As well as those luscious chocolates, their innovative seasonal venture also features a gorgeous sheep’s milk soap, which they developed in conjunction with Val in Dalkey Soaps.
In addition, their new range includes incredibly tasty sheep’s milk fudge made by Chef Anthony Printer in Westport, alongside beautiful hand-crafted Irish beech cheese boards created by Fiona Scott in FS Design.
Underlining the need to get those all-important seasonal orders in as soon as possible, Aisling reminds us that because they worked with small producers, it means that their Christmas range is only available in limited volumes from their website. “Once the Christmas range sells out, unfortunately that’s it,” she says, adding, “Our main business is sheep’s milk yogurt and cheese, and our efforts are going into building availability of those products, through retailers around Ireland. Small businesses rely on the good will of the Irish people to support local, and every sale, like, share and comment we get is so much appreciated.”
Velvet Cloud’s Christmas Gift Set is now available to order on velvetcloud.ie. Pre-orders are set to go out in the last week of November, so speed is of the essence for those interested in placing an order.