Kerry protein bar firm offering consumers a healthy alternative

Origin Clean Protein Bars gearing up for funding round as it plans to expand business

Ross McDowell   and Niall Harty, founders of Origin Clean Protein Bars

Ross McDowell and Niall Harty, founders of Origin Clean Protein Bars

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The growing amount of shelf space devoted to food bars suggests there’s a lucrative market for these so called “healthy” snacks. But are they all they’re cracked up to be from a nutritional point of view? “Absolutely not,” says Niall Harty, co-founder of Origin Clean Protein Bars.

“Origin was born out of my frustration with products being presented as being good for you when clearly they were not,” he adds. “Most of the protein bars on sale today are marketed as ‘healthy options’ when in fact they contain artificial flavourings, chemical sweeteners and bulking agents that actually come with a health warning from the European Food Safety Authority about digestive disruption.”

It took hundreds of recipe tweaks to satisfy the founders’ taste buds, but eventually the first three flavours (lemon & coconut, chocolate mint and vanilla & almond) rolled off the production line and were launched at the Musgraves Food Academy in Kerry just over a year ago. The bars are now available online and in about 100 outlets nationwide, including 45 SuperValu stores across Cork and Kerry.

Harty has a background in manufacturing management and a master’s in food science, nutrition and health from UCD. Prior to setting up Origin, he worked with Enterprise Ireland as an enterprise executive. McDowell is no stranger to the food sector having previously set up biltong company, Stript Snacks.

Five employees

Origin Clean is based in Farranfore, Co Kerry, where it employs five people and has its own manufacturing facility. Investment to date has been in the order of €150,000 with about €70,000 of that coming from Enterprise Ireland and Kerry LEO.

“Our bars are 100 per cent natural, have a well-balanced macronutrient profile of healthy fats, protein and carbohydrates and are high in prebiotic fibre which is essential for gut health and also ensures slow energy release when combined with ingredients such as dates. We use the phrase – ‘made in a kitchen, not in a lab’ to get across what’s different about us. Sure, I’m a food scientist and I earned my qualifications in a lab, but I’m a food lover first and real food is something that is very important to us and to our customers,” Harty says.

“Most of the synthetic protein bars on the market look the same, taste the same and are all made in the same European factories and while people may understand that they are not actually that good for them, they fit their nutritional objectives so they eat them anyway. Origin Clean is offering a real alternative that is natural, easy to digest and ticks the boxes in terms of taste, convenience, nutrition and health. We kind of straddle two market categories – protein bars (usually artificial) and energy bars/bites which are usually lower in protein and high in sugar.”

Handmade

The company’s initial focus is the Irish market followed by expansion into Europe. “We don’t have a huge marketing budget so we have put the focus on social media, in-store tastings and supplying product to local athletes. We’re official snack partners to Kerry GAA for example,” Harty says.

The bars are currently handmade in small batches and this has curtailed the speed at which the business has been able to grow so far. However, the company has recently moved into a bigger premises and is launching a funding round of €500,000 that will enable it to mechanise production and greatly increase volumes in the near future. Employment at Origin Clean is expected to grow to 10 people over the next year.

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