Searching through clothes rails, scouring through bookshelves, finding that charity shop bargain is a shopping high.

And when Rónán Ó Dálaigh from Ballyinskelligs, Co Kerry, found a book for 50c which he later found valued for £60 on Amazon, it was the ultimate bargain that ignited an idea to set up an online platform for charity shops.

He says: “I love charity shops, it’s not just the bargain, it’s the fact that you are buying sustainably, reusing an item that is often in very good condition and you’re supporting an ethical organisation which is the charity shop itself.

Timur Negru and Rónán Ó Dálaigh are founders of Thriftify. \ Philip Magowan

“As a shopper though, if you are looking for something specific like a brand or a shoe in a certain colour, you might have to visit 20 shops to find it and really, how many people are going to do that? So the idea was to build an online charity shop. People could find what they want while supporting charities and having a positive impact on the planet.”

And so, Thriftify was born. “We knew from the start we needed a really good technological platform to deal with the unique business model that is the charity shop. Every year, Irish charity shops get 300 million donations of clothes, not to mention tens of thousands of books. So we developed an algorithm where the charity shop employee could take a picture of an item, upload it to our system which communicates with Amazon and eBay to find how much its selling for and how much profit the shop can make on it. Then it allows them to list it online. It goes onto and they have the option to also put it on other websites like Amazon and eBay.”

The customer makes their purchase and the Thriftify technology is automated to help with distribution. “We assign an An Post tracking label that goes onto one of our compostable bags that we provide. The charity shop drops it to any post box and it’s on its way to the buyer.”

Ronan O’Dalaigh of Thriftify.

However, Rónán says growth was slow. “We launched in 2018 and many were slow to adapt. They were saying, ‘Yes, we definitely want to get on board, but it will take a while for our system to adapt’ or, ‘We need to get sign off from the board’. By the start of 2020, about 25% of Irish charities were signed up to our service.”

However, when the pandemic hit, things changed drastically.

“Initially, in the first fortnight, we were afraid this would be the end of the business. All the stock that goes on our website was sitting in closed shops. We were at zero sales for a few days. But then once the shock and panic eased, people started to go into solution making mode. That’s when they started turning to our online offering, not just in Ireland but also in the UK.”

Now a year later, Thriftify is on another level. “Last year, we had 25% of charity retailers in Ireland signed up to our service, now we have 95%. We have grown our staff base from four staff members to 16 and we anticipate we’ll take on 20 more this year, all working remotely across the country. Our sales revenue is now six times bigger and we are in talks with companies in Germany, Austria, the States and Canada. The pandemic has pushed us forward in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.”

Donations continue to be a challenge as charity shops are closed but when they were allowed to open, they were inundated.

Rónán says: “We would encourage people who are doing their lockdown clear outs to hold onto stuff until charity shops open again. In the meantime, it’s good to know that during a time when some people have less income because of the pandemic, we have created an offering that still allows them to shop in a charity shop.”


Braw's founder and chocolatier, Anna Coffey Lynch. \ Kirsty Lyons

Anna Coffey is a woman who admits she wouldn’t be a massive risk taker. However, the pandemic forced her to take a punt on herself. “If you told me this time last year that I would have my own chocolate brand and a bakery unit, I wouldn’t believe you. When this pandemic hit, my son Seamus wasn’t even two. I would never have given up my job to do anything as fanciful as starting a company.”

Anna, who lives in Adare, previously worked as head chocolatier with Cocoa Atelier in Dublin and as a pastry chef in Adare Manor. When the pandemic hit, she was eight weeks into a new job.

“My husband Mark also works in the hospitality industry and our jobs just disappeared. So I started doing the one thing that helps me when I’m stressed and anxious – baking. In those early days of lockdown, I was baking brown bread and banana bread, cupcakes and cookies, dropping them to friends and family. It helped me keep calm.”

But then these comfort boxes as she calls them took on a life of their own. “Next thing, I was getting requests from friends of friends to put together boxes for family members that they hadn’t seen. I started charging for the service, I was probably losing money,” she laughs, “but it gave me a sense of purpose.”

When one local Limerick restaurant came knocking, asking Anna to supply their dessert counter, she knew it was time to get a production unit. “That was the start of July, my job was gone at that stage, this was a way to pay the bills, and my husband and family were encouraging me to do it. It was a no-brainer really.”

Valrhona Manjari Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with candied pistachios and inside contains a pistachio sweet surprise. \ Kirsty Lyons

One restaurant turned into two, and then three and four. “The baking end of things started getting really busy, covering the bills and I was able to take on someone giving me the time to work on my real passion – chocolate.”

Anna hit the ground running, “Because of my time in Cocoa Atelier I knew exactly what chocolate I wanted to use. Opera chocolate is a French brand that is amazing quality and I also love Valrhouna and Luxar chocolate.

“So I started making everything by hand, tampering the chocolate, developing the fillings, even the packaging and the labelling, everything I do is small-batch. I go into my own world when I am tampering chocolate and I started getting creative, developing a range of bars – salted caramel with Achill Island Sea Salt, peanut butter caramel and jelly, peppermint fondant as well as a whiskey caramel with roasted almond nibs.”

Anna’s first Christmas in business was a resounding success. Now her Easter eggs (which we profile in Irish Country Living Food) are nearly sold out.

“I bought all my packaging for the Easter eggs in February and I was nervous that I was buying too much, but now I will easily sell them and could have sold more, such is the demand. Last week, I had an order for 500 bars. That was a Christmas-level order but now it’s becoming standard.”

Now on the anniversary of her batch baking, Braw has expanded to two baking units and three staff members with Anna intending to hire again before the summer. “And let’s not forget my husband, who does a lot of the deliveries. He is great for the free labour,” she laughs.

The success has given Anna the confidence to dream. “I always wanted to have my own chocolate shop and now it’s something that I am seriously looking into. I know I am fortunate the way things worked out and I’m not baking out of stress and anxiety anymore, well maybe a little bit but it’s a different kind of stress,” she laughs.

Joe’s Farm Crisps

Joe and Sandra Burn of Joe’s Farm Crisps.

If you’ve been to a farmer’s market in Cork or indeed a food festival anywhere in the country in the last few years, you’ve more than likely come across Joe and Sandra Burns. The couple behind Joe’s Farm Crisps have spent 13 years chatting with the public and selling their farm produce.

Sandra says: “The markets are hard work, but we love them whether we were in Midleton or Mahon Point, Douglas or Mallow. It certainly had its challenges. We were competing with the big retailers who were all in price wars selling their veg as low as five cent while we were trying to sell our farm produce at a fair price. So we started diversifying, growing rainbow carrots and Romanesco cauliflower, but then they started going down that route too.”

On a trip to Boston visiting Joe’s sister, the seed was set for an innovative farm diversification to take hold.

“We saw vegetable crisps and thought, they are really different to the usual potato crisps. We had the veg growing on the farm so we started making them in our kitchen, putting them in ziplock bags and giving them to customers as a thank you. But then they started asking could they buy them. We bought a mobile kitchen unit and we started selling in March 2014.”

Varieties included their Beetroot Crisps; Carrot, Parsnip and Beetroot Crisps; and the Potato Medley, all sprinkled with Achill Island Sea Salt.

“It just took off and it meant we were offering something different at the markets and it also got us into food festivals. Our biggest one was always Gifted in the RDS before Christmas and we loved going off to Bloom and the Ploughing Championships, we used do the whole circuit of food festivals as far as Donegal.”

So when the pandemic hit last March, not only did food festivals disappear for the crisp market, the farmers markets where they sold their veg and the restaurants which also took their produce were shut. “Luckily, our crisps are stocked in independent retailers and SuperValu. But we lost one third of crisps sales overnight. I remember thinking how are we going to cope?”

So we did the only thing we could think of. We put a van out on the road and loaded it up with our produce – carrots, parsnips, beetroot, turnip, cabbage, cauliflower and of course, crisps. We set up an honesty box, a wooden box with a slit that we screwed down and a price list. And we hoped for the best.”

The Burns Ballycurraginny Farm in Killeagh is not exactly on a main road.

“You’re going down a road with grass in the middle of it to get to us. Thank God for social media and Eircodes because once word got out, people starting coming in their droves to support the local business. It was amazing. Everything was social distanced and we provided people with envelopes so they could put their money in.

“We would isolate the money for 72 hours but then when we opened it, not only was the money inside, there was heartwarming notes from people delighted to be supporting our farm.”

Since then, Joe and Sandra have set up a purpose built farm shop and are stocking many other Irish producers – Achill Island Sea Salt and fudge; Rebel Chilli sauces; free-range chickens from Ballycotton Poulty; hams, rashers and pudding from Crowe’s Farm in Tipperary and a wide selection of Irish cheeses including Ardsallagh, Velvet Cloud and Bó Rua cheddar.

On top of that, 13 hamper companies used their produce for their Christmas range and sales of their crisps on shelf have been very strong.

“This time last year, it was difficult to see how we could make it all work but it’s been possible because of hard work and local support. We’ve realised that we don’t have to leave the house and can still sell. Of course, we look forward to going back to festivals and meeting people but we’ll probably be more selective and have a better work life balance to spend more time with the kids.”

Find Joe’s Farm Crisps on Facebook.