23 May 2009

Jacob's end Production in Ireland

Jacob's, Ireland's famous manufacturers of biscuits, crackers and wafers (and one of the oldest and best-known brand names on this island), have baked the last biscuits at their factory in Tallaght, County Dublin yesterday afternoon.

As Tallaght was the company's last manufacturing facility in the Republic of Ireland, this means the end of production of our favourite biscuits in our own country.

The closure of the plant, which had started production in the 1970s, had been already announced in September 2008, and a gradual wind-down process of production took place since then. However, the closure means that another 220 jobs are lost in Dublin, and in the harsh recession we are in, that hurts.
Jacob's sales, marketing and administration departments, which together still employ about 100 people, will remain in Tallaght, at least for the time being.

The 15 popular brand lines of the company (most of which are market leaders) will from now on be manufactured in several plants in Britain and on the European continent, where - according the company's chairman Michael Carey - "the production is more efficient and less costly".

In modern business language this is called 'outsourcing'.

The Jacob's plant at Belgard Road in Tallaght had been working with only 16% of its full capacity for years, and in times of recession this is a situation few companies would or could maintain.

Even though Jacob's have been in Dublin for more than a century, the company was not founded in the capital. Like so many good and important things in Ireland, Jacob's biscuits came originally from the Emerald Isle's oldest city - Waterford.

In 1881 two brothers - William and Richard Jacob - opened a small biscuit bakery here in Bridge Street, close to the river Suir (and leading onto the city's only bridge).

They did very well, and soon their products became popular all over Ireland.
As the business began to grow and expand,
W & R Jacob moved to larger premises on Dublin's Bishop Street (left), a site now occupied by the National Archive of Ireland. The brothers also had another Dublin factory in Peter's Row and later opened an English branch in Liverpool as well.

In 1916 the Bishop Street factory was one of several prominent Dublin buildings occupied by members of the Irish Citizens Army during the Easter Rising.

In the 1920s the company's two branches separated, with the Dublin branch retaining the W & R Jacob name, while the Liverpool branch was renamed Jacob's Bakery Ltd.
In the 1970s W & R Jacob merged with Boland's Biscuits to form Irish Biscuits Ltd. and moved to Tallaght, into the then new manufacturing plant that has produced its last biscuits yesterday.

Since 1990, when the company was bought by the French food giant Groupe Danone, Jacob's is strictly speaking no longer an Irish company. After several changes, the English branch is now part of the multi-national United Biscuits, while the Dublin branch was acquired a few years ago by the Fruitfield Food Group, which then changed its name to Jacob Fruitfield Food Group.

Jacob's biscuits are very popular here, and an almost essential part of every Irish childhood and growing-up process. And even as an adult I still like them very much. In fact, while I am writing this, I have two of Jacob's famous fig rolls sitting beside my mug of tea.

I presume that we will see Jacob's products on the shelves of our shops and supermarkets in the future, as we have seen them for all our lives. But I wonder if we will from now on have the same sentimental feelings that we always had when buying them.
Although we knew perfectly well that they were made in Dublin and Tallaght, for us they were somehow still 'our own' Waterford biscuits from Bridge Street.
Now they are not even made in Ireland any longer, and it is sad to see a great manufacturing tradition end after 128 years.

The Emerald Islander

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