When Storm Emma hit Ireland in 2018, the country's shops quickly ran out of bread.

However Ireland’s love of baked goods has manifested itself differently during the Covid-19 pandemic, with shop shelves this time cleared of flour and yeast.

Meanwhile the country’s local bakeries have faced continued demand for their fresh products.

"It’s quite simple, I’m German and I never took to the sliced pan, so I was always baking," Josephine Plettenberg, chief baker and manager at Speltbakers in Kilkenny.

"I discovered that spelt is a niche in the market and went a bit bigger, delivered to a local shop that was starting off as well, and went from there."

The bakery been in business for just over ten years, normally supplying fresh bread locally to ten shops and four markets.

Serving a very different kind customer is Le Patissier in Dublin, which hand-makes high end desserts for the hospitality and retail sectors.

"We do a few cafes and a good few restaurants and then we do a lot of hotel work - and within that we have some of the hotels that take large corporate events, and then we’re into stadiums and racecourses and golfing events," said pastry chef Robert Bullock, who runs the business with his partner Louisa.


"We touch a little bit of the airline sector, and Dunnes Stores would be our retail partner."

But however different the two businesses are - the impact of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions was much the same.

"We lost half our shops - they closed - and then all of a sudden the motto came out that all markets had to close," said Ms Plettenberg. "From one day to the next we went from selling in ten shops and four markets to selling in five shops."

Things also ground to a halt for Le Patissier.

"In a week it was gone," said Mr Bullock. "If you put Dunnes Stores to one side, because it’s all corporate, it all went."

The two companies’ reactions to the crisis were also similar - with both quickly shifting their businesses online in order to keep the doors open

"I decided that maybe there’s an opportunity to have a bit of fun in the kitchen, try some new products, and whilst I was doing that I was putting it up on social media," said Mr Bullock. "And then myself and Louisa said let’s get Aaron involved, who is our nephew, and let’s put a shopping cart up."

Speltbakers also quickly tweaked its business quickly to make online ordering work.

"As it turned out we were quite lucky because we deliver to shops and we drive to markets, so we had cars on the road," Ms Plettenberg. "We have a website and on that website, as of quite recently, we have an online shop.

"So we said we’ll try and keep our customers and try to deliver to them for the duration."

The change in direction has not been without its challenges, however.

Both firms would have been used to making one large delivery to a single location - but now they have to deal with lots of small orders to multiple addresses.

Keeping track of all of those orders has also been tricky.

"We were heavily dependent on goodwill, because you order something and you get the wrong bread to the wrong address on the wrong day," said Ms Plettenberg. "You’re just not able to get it right that quickly! Thankfully it’s getting a lot less."

But it’s had meant that both companies have been able to keep going - and in the case of La Pattiserie, the extra work has allowed them to bring back some of the staff that were temporarily laid off.

And both firms have been able to reach customers that may not have known about them before.

"A lot of the messages on social media have been 'we didn’t even know you existed!’," said Mr Bullock. "All of our boxes are branded and people are seeing the vans, so it’s great to get that feedback from the consumer.

"Normally we’re wholesale so it’s a box into the backdoor of the kitchen and then it’s plated, so you don’t really have that interaction."

Meanwhile Speltbakers have seen a very localised version of viral marketing."What we noticed was that we would deliver to a customer we have from the market, and then the next day their neighbours order," Ms Plettenberg. "I suppose people are at home and they’re looking at each other across the green and wondering ‘what are you having for breakfast? I want that too’."

For another bakery - Sourdough and Beyond in Dublin - the restrictions have actually led to a sales boost.

"I started selling ten breads a week to my sister, her boyfriend, the mother of her boyfriend, and then suddenly I would start to have missed calls from strange numbers - and they were friends of theirs," said Emmanuel, who runs the business with his partner.

"I was doing five to ten loafs five weeks ago - now that’s skyrocketed to 130 loafs a week."

His burgeoning business has also been able to move from their kitchen to a professional unit that was vacated following the shut-down, allowing them to cater to the growing demand.

He believes the past few weeks have reignited the trend of customers having fresh bread delivered to their doors, which he hopes to build on even as restrictions are lifted.

"How interesting it will be if you get your daily products - say milk, bread and other basic groceries - delivered to your house every single day," he said. "I think delivery is the future in some way."

For Speltbakers and Le Patissier, it’s somewhat more nuanced.

"I have capacity and we’re good at doing what we do, so we’ll definitely continue [online deliveries]," said Mr Bullock. "But I can’t wait for everything else to get back to normal, whatever normal is. This is great, but it doesn’t replace the revenue we’ve lost."

And while some customers will have warmed to online bread deliveries, others will still prefer the old-fashioned method.

"We would have maybe kept 20% of our customers from the market," said Ms Plettenberg. "The majority of them don’t order.

"Again, being German, I’m struggling with the Irish dislike of putting people out. A lot of our customers feel it’s too much trouble that they order from us!"