EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Samuel Dennigan, Strong Roots
Businessman rooting for success with his range of healthy frozen vegetable products
Strong Roots chief executive Sam Dennigan: “The plan is to be a global brand – it just happens to be starting in Ireland.”
Sam Dennigan established Strong Roots, a company that specialises in producing healthy affordable frozen vegetable products such as kale-and-quinoa burgers and sweet-potato fries, in 2015 after concluding that modern consumers’ needs were not being met by frozen-food suppliers.
Having worked in his family’s fresh-vegetable distribution business for more than 10 years before striking out on his own, Dennigan was acutely aware of how limited the options were for those looking for more than cabbage and spuds.
“I realised that younger consumers were more adventurous in their tastes but weren’t being catered for in the frozen-food aisle. I set up Strong Roots to provide new and healthy options for these customers, bring them back to the frozen aisle and show that frozen can be as good as fresh,” he says.
Strong Roots is available in stores across Ireland and is also expanding across the UK through grocery giants such as Waitrose. The company, which intends to launch six new products before the end of the year, currently employs 14 full-time staff and has an annual turnover of €2 million.
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
While working my family’s business on a project for Green Giant Fresh, I realised that a product with a global brand feel could be a great step for food in Ireland, but not in fresh produce because everyone was selling the same commodities. I saw an opportunity within the frozen category because the quality and nutritional value of frozen foods is comparable to, if not better than, fresh.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
The brand and products have single-handedly created category growth in the Irish frozen market, a category that was flat or in decline for many years.
What were the best and worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best was to get the strategy and the product right so that competitors would find it difficult to follow. The worst was that our products were too expensive and wouldn’t work.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
The plan is to be a global brand – it just happens to be starting in Ireland. Our first export customer was Wholefoods Market UK, followed by Waitrose. We are about to launch in UAE, Singapore and are investigating Strong Roots’ potential in Scandinavia too. The ultimate aim is to trade in the US market.
Describe your growth funding path.
We are currently self-financing. Bank of Ireland supplies us with varied facilities to manage cash flow and later this year we will start to seek a strategic partner or investor to help us grow in the UK market as well as give an insight into the growth trajectory of a big FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] brand.
What “red tape” hampers growth the most?
We are pioneers in what we do. As a result we are in an isolated space when it comes to State assistance or funding. I feel if the net was widened in Enterprise Ireland or Bord Bia we would all have a much bigger success story to talk about in the short term.
Based on your experience, are the banks in Ireland open for business?
Mine is, has been from the start and is a major part of the success of our business to date.
What would make you a better leader?
More experience and spending time around more influential people. Every time I have a conversation with someone who has trodden a similar path, I come away enlightened.