Developing a recognizable brand and getting Irish products into mainstream stores takes time and considerable effort.
“A lot of Irish food companies aspire to sell here in the U.S. as it’s the largest grocery market in the world,” Coyle said.
“There are a lot of people in the chain and it’s a challenging market because of the costs of getting here.”
For now, according to Coyle, it will remain challenging for companies to establish a foothold in the conventional U.S. market.
One Irish company gaining traction in the U.S. is Lily O’Brien’s chocolate café in Bryant Park in Manhattan. In March 2009, the Irish chocolate company opened its flagship store in the heart of Midtown.
Mary Ann O’Brien established the business in 1992, when she began making chocolates in her kitchen at home in Kildare. She named the store after her daughter Lily.
From these humble beginnings, Lily O'Brien's Chocolates has evolved into a well-known brand which manufactures over 80 tons of chocolate per week and is sold all over the globe.
“We are the only Irish chocolate store to put down roots in the U.S.,” says Cathal Queally, the owner of New York’s Lily O'Brien’s Chocolate Café.
“The first year was tough,” he admits. Opening up a relatively unknown company in the in the middle of a recession in New York City posed obvious challenges.
“No one really knew who Lily was. She could be somebody from Brooklyn,” Queally pointed out. “We tried to educate the customers.”
Over the past three years business has picked up significantly, as brand recognition increases.
“Within our immediate surroundings, all the office workers have become huge fans of the café,” Queally said.
“Christmas is the busiest time of the year for chocolates.”
Corporate gifting is a huge element also. “It’s great to see American businesses gifting Irish chocolates,” Queally said.
Just blocks from both Times Square and Grand Central Station, the café is located in a well-known tourist district. Serving a wide variety of chocolates, the café also sells Irish favorites such as oatmeal and Irish tea.
“The café is a lot busier during the summer, when a lot more people are coming to Bryant Park,” says Queally.
Appealing to a wide range of customers, Queally says the company’s Irish identity is an advantage.
“We don’t have any shamrocks or harps at the store to reflect that we are Irish, but definitely Irish and Irish Americans love to come here because we are Irish,” Queally added.
While chocolate remains a small segment within the export market, Coyle reflects that brands such as Lily O’Brien’s have established a good foothold in the U.S.
“It all goes back to the land,” Coyle says. “It is a quality source of ingredients. It’s real food made by real people.”