Food innovators have a taste for creating new products


Agrifood finalists in The Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards showcase talent in one of our key economic sectors


Long known for its natural organic yogurts, Glenisk recently introduced yogurts for babies and younger children that don’t have the added refined sugars usually associated with such products.

“As an organic yogurt producer, we have a long history of creating additive-free foods with the simplest of recipes and the most natural ingredients,” says Glenisk MD Vincent Cleary. “Removing sugar from the recipe was therefore a natural evolution for us. The philosophy at Glenisk is the fewer the ingredients, the better, in order to offer the purest and most natural food possible.”

Health concerns are key when developing new products. “We were mindful of the ongoing debate around infant nutrition and the fact that experts were clear that the type and timings of foods introduced at weaning stage could have life-long implications in terms of obesity, heart disease, cardiac disease and diabetes.

“We also felt that giving young children sweet food would condition their palates unnecessarily, leading to poorer food choices in the future. We took the time to speak to our customers – those customers who were parents of young children, and it was clear from that research that an appetite existed for a sugar-free recipe yogurt.”

Producing an unsweetened yogurt is not complicated, but the challenge lay in creating a yogurt without refined sugar that would maintain a similar pH and viscosity and taste profile. To meet the taste demands, Glenisk identified a blend of pure fruit and concentrated fruit that would negate the need to add refined sugar. The new kids’ yogurt is aimed at a slightly older age group and Glenisk introduced a recipe sweetened with agave, a natural organic alternative to refined sugar.

“It took almost a year to get the recipe exactly right,” says Cleary. “Eliminating all sweetness from the yogurt wouldn’t work as the yogurts would not then appeal to kids. It was necessary to find a natural alternative to sugar.

“When we settled on agave for our kids’ yogurt, we needed to source it organically, and to test the recipe repeatedly to ensure that it would deliver the same taste, texture, shelf life, appearance and mouth feel as our existing range.

“Quality was critical. Our sugar-free recipe baby yogurts were launched in mid-2010 and sales have increased by over 100 per cent in 30 months while our sugar-free recipes kids’ yogurts were launched in March 2012 and to date we have seen sales increases in excess of 15 per cent.”

Next on the innovation list for Glenisk is an extension to the range later this year. “Last year we introduced a no added sugar adult yogurt, which is performing very well,” Cleary says. “Innovation to us is an ongoing process and can be major adjustments or minor tweaks.”

Goatsbridge Trout Farm

Caviar may not be a product readily associated with Ireland, let alone Co Kilkenny, but it is one of two new product breakthroughs that have seen Goatsbridge Trout Farm of Thomastown break into all of the major multiples in the country.

Until its development by the firm, Irish caviar was not being produced commercially. Having found it was throwing away eggs from maturing female fish, Goatsbridge found a way to modify the process employed in other parts of the world and produced Ireland’s first trout caviar.

While caviar is still an acquired taste for many Irish people, fillet of trout most definitely is not. “We identified the biggest limiting factor to selling trout in Ireland were the small pin bones in the fish,” explains managing director Mag Kirwan. “We realised we needed to eliminate these if we were to succeed in getting trout into every Irish shopping basket.”

The company developed a prototype machine that combined traditional pin boning with a suction vacuum. This made Goatsbridge the first company to remove these bones from freshly caught rainbow trout allowing it to offer the freshest boneless fish fillets to customers instead of waiting two days, which is normally the case in the industry.

The firm won a JFC innovation award for the concept and remains the only European company to operate this process.

Goatsbridge is now supplying multiples in Ireland with rainbow trout fillets. “We began in Superquinn and once we had proved the product would sell [we] began to supply Supervalu and Dunnes Stores and we are now in the process of selling to Lidl,” Kirwan says.

“We are in the process of developing a trout product in the Saucy Fish Co range and, if we are successful with this in Ireland, the company is interested in expanding it to the UK. We are now working with a number of Irish trout farmers to supply the raw material as we are at capacity in our own farms.”

It is early days in terms of the caviar market and, according to Kirwan, the company is in the process of building a market for a product that has already captured the imagination.

“We will, in time, with tastings and education expand the Irish market. Even if we are in a recession, we can now enjoy a little taste of caviar at an affordable price.”

Mash Direct

Healthy, tasty food to go that can be heated in a microwave in a few minutes may sound like an oxymoron or a miracle depending on your point of view but it is exactly what has been achieved by Co Down-based family-owned farming and food production business Mash Direct.

Launched by Martin and Tracy Hamilton in 2004, Mash Direct is now a leading brand offering an innovative range of delicious, quick serve, convenient mashed root vegetables, potatoes and other quality vegetable meal accompaniments with the taste and texture of homemade food. The firm has grown into a £10 million (€11.6 million) business employing 106 people producing a range of 32 vegetable-based dishes from traditional accompaniments to innovative ready meals.

In 2011, the company decided to expand its product portfolio and develop new products for the food to go market. Market research indicated demand for a healthy, microwavable snack as an alternative to sandwiches, wraps and burgers and it was decided to introduce a new range called Mash Pots to cater for the lunchtime snack and food to go markets.

“New product development is the lifeblood of the company and we were very aware that people were sick of sandwiches and wanted an alternative so we decided to see what we could do in terms of quick snacks,” says Mash Direct director Tracy Hamilton.

“The new product is totally natural and very nutritious and positioned us in a different space than where we already were in terms of the supermarkets.”

Three new lines have been launched as part of the new range: bangers and mash; carrot and parsnip mash with bacon; and creamy bubble and squeak. They can be heated in a microwave or oven.

Several other new varieties are in development and are scheduled to be added to the range shortly. These include cowboy supper; haggis, neeps and tatties; cheese and onion mash with ham or bacon; and coq au vin.

“Market reaction has been very good,” says Hamilton. “We do a lot of public tastings in supermarkets and there is a real wow factor when people taste our products and say it tastes better than when they make it themselves. We are breaking down the perception that pre-packed is not good. We are the farmers, it is real food and we grow our vegetables for their flavour.”

Shoppers in Ireland will be able to try out another example of Mash Direct’s innovation in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day when they will be able to find a “St Patrick’s Day supper” of cabbage, mashed potato and turnips in the highly appropriate colours of green, white and orange on their local supermarket shelves.

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