Anyone for chocolate chip sausages? Lidl launches new Irish producers

There’s a huge and lovely variety in Lidl’s new range of Irish products from pies and pestos to shellfish umami pearls

Cilian Byrne’s Pieman pies and sausage rolls

Cilian Byrne’s Pieman pies and sausage rolls

 

There’s an unmistakable whiff of fried food in the air, and a bewildering array of food and drink products displayed on a shiny sea of stainless steel-topped worktops. There is every variety of packaged foodstuff you could think of, and some that might surprise – chocolate chip and honeycomb sausages, or Asian infusion shellfish umami pearls, anyone?

Chocolate chips and honeycomb sausages from Barry Crowe’s butcher in Cavan
Chocolate chips and honeycomb sausages from Barry Crowe’s butcher in Cavan

It’s like a giant buffet. But instead of loading their plates with the food on offer, clusters of serious looking people armed with cutlery and paper napkins are roaming around, taking a bite here, a sip there, and chewing thoughtfully.

We are in the headquarters of Lidl Ireland in Tallaght, Co Dublin in early June, and the food and drink lining almost every inch of space in the expansive test kitchen is being assessed for its suitability to be included in the retail giant’s first Irish food promotion, Best of Ireland, which kicks off on Monday.

A range of high protein, low fat readymeals using chickpeas, sweet potatoes and beans from Montys of Kathmandu Nepalese restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar
A range of high protein, low fat readymeals using chickpeas, sweet potatoes and beans from Montys of Kathmandu Nepalese restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar

Walk into any one of the 152 Lidl branches in Ireland next week, and you’ll find 71 additional Irish food and drink products on offer. Some of them were previously only available local to their production base, or in speciality food shops, but lots of them are already well established .

These are the products that were successful at the assessment stage of the Kick Start supplier development programme, and since then their makers have had the opportunity to attend seminars on quality, health and safety, packaging, working with buyers, and marketing and promotions. The cost of mounting these was part of the retailer’s €250,000 investment in the new programme, which is supported by Bord Bia.

Taste tests at the headquarters of Lidl Ireland in Tallaght, Co Dublin for their first Irish food promotion, Best of Ireland, which kicks off on Monday
Taste tests at the headquarters of Lidl Ireland in Tallaght, Co Dublin for their first Irish food promotion, Best of Ireland, which kicks off on Monday

“We work with over 200 Irish suppliers and are always looking to expand our range of Irish produce,” says Liam Casey, Lidl Ireland commercial director. A total of 452 products were submitted by 188 suppliers, after a call-out on social media inviting submissions.

‘Sheer diversity’

“We were blown away by the sheer diversity of what was entered. There were some very simple but high quality products and some that were a little left of field, such as the chocolate chip and honeycomb sausages,” says Fiona Cosgrove, Food Specials manager.

Those scene-stealing snags were dreamt up by Barry Crowe, whose family runs a butcher shop in Cavan town. Crowe is no stranger to dreaming up unusual sausages – bacon and cabbage, and blackcurrant and Guinness are previous inventions – and the chocolate ones made the cut for the promotion. “A permanent listing with Lidl” is what Crowe hopes to achieve from his involvement.

But that will depend on how well his quirky sausages go down with shoppers. “We’ve maintained from the start that this is a promotional range, but of course we will be closely monitoring sales and customer feedback,” Liam Casey says.

Shellfish Umami Pearls by iASC Atlantic Seafood Company of Ireland
Shellfish Umami Pearls by iASC Atlantic Seafood Company of Ireland

The Shellfish Umami Pearls, entered by iASC Atlantic Seafood Company of Ireland, were also selected. This product can be used to make a fish stock, or used as a flavoured cooking or finishing butter.

“Basically, we combine Irish butter with dried mussels, oysters, seaweed and seasoning. Asian Infusion adds chilli, curry, coriander and lime, while Sweet Onion contains caramelised onion,” says Colin Ross, managing director of iASC. The third variety contains dulse seaweed.

“Export opportunities”, is what Ross had his eye on when he entered the competition. Lidl exported more than €200 million worth of Irish produce for resale in 2016, so the draw is obvious.

“Again we need to see how it performs in our stores before we potentially offer it to our international colleagues. It is definitely something I would love to see and we will fully support any supplier that we feel is ready for this step,” Liam Casey says.

Green tea by herbalist Sean McCarthy
Green tea by herbalist Sean McCarthy

Making green tea more palatable was the objective of herbalist Sean McCarthy, formerly a rugby journalist with the Examiner, when he developed his powdered versions, which come in lemon, cardamom and hibiscus, and ginseng, cardamom and orange varieties. “It has been a real eye-opener for me and a huge learning curve,” McCarthy says of his involvement in Kick Start. “It’s a great opportunity to put my products in front of a far bigger audience.”

Angela Carney’s Harvest Moon Wholefoods, in Westport, Co Mayo has no fewer than five hummus and pesto products making their Lidl debut next week. Already well established, with listings in SuperValu, Fresh and Avoca, as well as speciality food shops including Morton’s, Nolan’s and McCambridges, Carney had “ nationwide exposure” as her objective in entering. “The marketing campaign for Kick Start will hopefully result in interest from other retailers,” she says. “It’s advertising we could never afford.”

Lina Gautam runs Montys of Kathmandu Nepalese restaurant in Dublin’s Temple Bar with her husband Shiva, and has devised a range of high protein, low fat ready meals using chickpeas, sweet potatoes and beans. Her Pure & Simple range has no added sugar and is free from wheat and dairy. Gautam mixes her own spices for each dish and they are manufactured in a commercial kitchen in Tallaght.

Pies and burgers

Excellent packaging and a catchy brand name – The Farmer’s Daughter – marked Dorene Mallon’s range of burgers out from the beginning. Her three burgers – classic, caramelised red onion and cheddar cheese, and low-fat/gluten-free, are made with grass-fed beef reared on her family farm in Co Meath. “Brand awareness and people understanding the quality of my products” is what she hopes to get out of Kick Start.

Cilian Byrne’s Pieman pies and sausage rolls have been the saviour of many a starving music festival goer, and his Pieman Café has been open in Temple Bar for almost six years. Kick Start marks his first venture into third-party retail sales, and next week you’ll be able to buy his chicken and sausage stuffing and feta and sweet potato pies.

“Lidl have given us great access to the behind the scenes of dealing with a major retailer. Who knows where it might go from here, but regardless, it’s been an invaluable experience,” he says.

  • Best of Ireland launches at Lidl nationwide on Monday and will run for two weeks
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