Time flies when you are having fun. Tom O’Hanlon sometimes has to pinch himself when he realises that three decades have lapsed since he started out in the herb business from the back garden of his suburban Dublin home.
He subsequently relocated to a Wicklow farm, close to Glenealy, Co. Wicklow in 1992 and it’s fair to say that O’Hanlon Herbs has come a long way since then. This year the company is celebrating 30 years in business and there are plans to mark the milestone achievement in style.
“We’re going to market our produce with new packaging and revamp our logo,” Tom revealed in conversation with Irish Tractor & Agri. “We also intend to host commemorative events and run some community sponsorship ideas. We’re going to take the year to mark the anniversary with a range of different ideas and initiatives because it is something worth celebrating.”
A deep passion for herbs and an unwavering commitment to supplying quality produce are the main reasons why O’Hanlon Herbs has not only stood the test of time but flourished into one of the country’s leading specialists in culinary herbs. Their coriander, basil, parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme are very much in demand.
Specialising in potted herb growing and farming of fresh cut herbs to the Irish market since 1988, their farm operations consists of modern growing glasshouses for year round pot herb production and a cut herb pack house in Glenealy.
In season, they grow Bord Bia Irish cut herbs, and out of season they source from quality approved suppliers abroad. All of their herb products go through rigorous agronomic checks and are food safety audited to BRC standard.
They package their selection of fresh herbs on site in Wicklow, using bespoke herb packaging to ensure optimal freshness.
Their herb enterprise started small, but has grown steadily in the size with their production. They have developed throughout the years by putting customer satisfaction and experience with their fresh herbs at the heart of everything they do.
With 70 employees on their payroll, O’Hanlon Herbs’ involvement in all aspects of the supply chain, from production to packing and delivery, means they have a clear understanding of their product.
“We’re always working on quality, improving our systems to perfect the entire production process,” Tom explained. “It’s a consistency thing with the different varieties of herbs and we’re always searching for ways to improve the flavor and look of our produce.
“At the moment, we’re looking at LED to replace sodium which is the traditional means of lighting herbs. LED is more bespoke to the plants and a more sophisticated method of growing. We’re at an advanced stage on the feasibility of that.”
O’Hanlon Herbs take pride in their country side location which is set in the heart of the Garden of Ireland, County Wicklow. They are involved in various sustainability projects and aim to operate as an environmentally friendly business. The business has received capital support from the Department of Agriculture horticulture schemes over the years which have been key in helping fund the sophisticated glasshouses and infrastructure to grow year round herbs.
They are a fully signed up member of Origin Green, which is a charter co-ordinated by Bord Bia encouraging food producers to operate in an environmental and socially sustainable manner.
Their aim is to produce their fresh products economically to create the greatest value for the customers. Their philosophy is to invest in their people and their production to deliver quality products to their customers on a consistent basis.
“Consistency in keeping the herb in top notch order is the big challenge. It’s a perishable commodity that requires continuous care and attention,” Tom explained.
“That’s why we invested in an automated seed sower a few years ago. We used to sow by hand but the new system has made the crop particularly uniform. What customers are now seeing on the shelves week in, week out, is a very consistent product and that leads to repeat buys.”
O’Hanlon Herbs are also part and parcel of the Grá brand which is a group of over 30 proud Irish growers, that been developed to make it easier for consumers to spot top quality local produce. O’Hanlon Herbs are one of the first growers to have GRA branded local product on supermarket shelves.
Tom’s ever-burgeoning business has grown in tandem with an increased awareness amongst the Irish public as to the health benefits of herbs, not to mention the flavour.
“The market is very healthy but the rate of growth has calmed down quite considerably in recent years,” he outlined. “It’s a more mature market now than it was a couple of years ago but, that said, people are getting more into healthy dishes.
“There is a big trend where customers are swapping drinks like sugary juices for herb infusions which are a healthier alternative. Herbs have become very trendy and every January you see a significant upturn in the market. People are looking to detox after the Christmas festivities and herbs come into the conversation when it comes to replacing salt and sugar.”
As far as Tom is concerned, satisfied customers that make the switch to herbs make all the hard work worthwhile.
“Personally, I love seeing people buying our produce and buying it without too much hesitation because that gives me a lot of confidence in the product.
“Herbs is a good segment to be involved. They tick the boxes of healthy eating and cooking at home which is very much on trend. Two decades ago, it was all ready-made meals but nowadays people are cooking. Herbs are habit forming. For example, if you taste a curry with fresh coriander on it and you like it, you’re not going to go back.
“As the years go by, more and more consumers are trying herbs and sticking with them.”
Tom has stuck with herbs for the past three decades and he hasn’t looked back since!
Tel: +353 (0) 404 44 999
Email: [email protected]
Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 6 No 4, June/July 2018