With Covid-19 having put the spotlight on healthy eating and immune-boosting foods, the farm family behind the Merry Mill has seen its online sales triple.

Kevin Scully of the Merry Mill in Vicarstown, Co. Laois, converted the family’s circa 90ac. farm to organic 15 years ago, with a beef enterprise made up of Wagyu-cross Herefords. He continued his family’s tradition of growing oats on the farm.

“I had been growing them for the cows until one morning, my youngest daughter, Niamh, who was with me, asked what I was feeding the cows. I told her it was a kind of porridge and Niamh asked could we eat it. I told her we could if we removed the hulls. That’s where the Merry Mill’s journey began,” Kevin said.

He conducted extensive research into oat milling and visited an organic mill outside Prague. After seeing the machine there, he bought a similar-style mill from Austria.

“Over the past few years, we have grown from supplying our local post office to 50 independent health food stores across Ireland. We supply a number of local cafes and restaurants.

“However, the biggest aspect of our business is our online store: www.themerrymill.ie which supplies a vast community of loyal customers in Ireland and abroad,” said Kevin.

Our supply chain is the biggest part of the business at risk during this unprecedented time. Luckily, we grow our main product, oats, on-site and have a large volume in stock. We are very lucky our product is non-perishable and that we can hold stock.

“We rely on a number of companies to produce our product including printers, packaging stockists and wholesalers. One of our products – Oat Boost – contains oats and a mix of seeds. While we have a small reserve of this product, it will be taken off our website until ingredient deliveries resume,” said Kevin.

Supporting local producers

“Our current distribution system is at risk of stopping and when this happens we will no longer be able to deliver to shops or customers. We plan to have a collection at the mill for local customers once this happens.

“While our online sales have tripled, all of the small cafes and restaurants we supply have now closed for the foreseeable future. With the closure of universities and schools, we have a much bigger staff force to tackle the volume of orders. We have four daughters home and ready to work,” he said.

People are becoming much more conscious of what they consume and building a strong immune system. This is great to see for everyone in the organic industry. Supporting local producers is so important during this time in order to keep jobs and keep our communities afloat.

“We grow our organic gluten-free oats without any chemical fertilisers or chemical pesticides. This means that the plants have to develop their own immune system and defend against all types of diseases.

“We believe when you eat this plant you incorporate the extra strength into your own immune system. There will be a bigger emphasis on nutrient-dense food going forward, with a growing understanding of the impact of our consumption on our health and immune system,” Kevin said.

“We currently export a small amount directly to customers via our online shop. We just had enquiries from Italy and sent some product to the UK and US on Monday.

“We will remain exporting for as long as possible. We are unsure but expect our delivery system abroad to close before the national delivery system. Our Irish customers will get priority if our stock does run low.

“We are currently in the process of expanding with the addition of new machinery to increase production capacity,” said Kevin.

“During this time, we are going to focus on new product ideas and projects such as our organic gluten-free oat milk. We plan to dedicate time to aspects of the business that usually get sidestepped.

“This is a great opportunity to review the business and improve upon current processes. We aim to help people during this time by using our social platforms to circulate important information and share positivity.”