Irish food start-up aims to keep outdoor enthusiasts well fed
T4 Adventure’s meals come freeze dried in a pouch that is biodegradable
T4 Adventure founder Jenn Hurley: ‘We will start with the Irish marketplace but will then move into EU and US markets where the current offerings have been around for 30-plus years.’ Photograph: Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography
As food and drinks products become increasingly niche, new specialist categories are constantly emerging covering everything from non-alcoholic spirits to vegan burgers. The latest to land is T4 Adventure which its founder Jenn Hurley describe as “Ireland’s first adventure food brand”.
The company’s meals come freeze dried in a pouch and are aimed at those involved in demanding outdoor pursuits. The first products will go on sale in early 2020 and Hurley says her company’s ethos is to encourage those with a taste for adventure to “eat well, pack light and leave no trace”.
Hurley was born in New York and studied food service management at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. She then worked as a chef and in food styling before moving to Tralee just over three years ago because of its proximity to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula. Hurley’s dad comes from Limerick and she has Irish citizenship.
“When I finally got to explore the area, I was struck by how difficult it was to plan my meals for the trail,” she says. “I couldn’t find food packs that were portable, tasted nice and didn’t weigh me down. Worse again, I couldn’t find anything in sustainable packaging. As an outdoor enthusiast, I found this counterintuitive. That’s when the penny for what has become T4 Adventure dropped with me.”
Hurley had grown up in an entrepreneurial home and had always wanted to start her own business. With the idea for her food company taking shape, she enrolled in a specialty food production course at University College Cork and has spent the last two years developing her idea while keeping body and soul together working as a chef.
“The challenge as I saw it was to bring good food to the great outdoors in a lightweight, convenient pack that leaves no trace. At the moment 75 per cent of provisions for the outdoor market come in non-recyclable packaging. Our biodegradable packaging can hold hot water and also doubles as a cooking and eating container. The emphasis with my products is on taste, provenance and the specific nutritional qualities required to refuel, recover and reward the mental and physical fortitude of outdoor adventurers,” Hurley says.
Hurley is making the meals herself in a commercial kitchen attached to Teagasc and she believes their convenience factor will be a key selling point with potential customers who currently have to spend a lot of time and money putting their nutrition packs together. “Too often, adventure athletes sacrifice flavour and nutrition for functionality and choose provisions that are bulky, chemically formulated, of inadequate portion size, have inconsistent quality and lack satisfying flavours,” she says. “Budget-led options can also be loaded with saturated fat, hidden sugars, dangerously high sodium and a startling array of unrecognisable ingredients and preservatives.”
T4 Adventure will launch with four products – a Buff & Stout stew (made with Macroom buffalo meat); a chicken tagine, a bean stew and mashed potatoes. The main meals will sell at between €8-€9.
As Hurley has done all of the leg work herself start-up costs have been bootstrapped at about €15,000 between her own money and support from Cork LEO, the Ignite incubator at UCC and Enterprise Ireland innovation vouchers. She paid €3,000 to join the Bord Bia/Teagasc Foodworks programme but says “the value is easily €50,000 with the calibre of the mentoring and advice I’ve received”.
Hurley’s target market are 30- to 55-year-olds with money to spend on their hobbies and the products will be sold online and through speciality retailers. “We will start with the Irish marketplace but will then move into EU and US markets where the current offerings have been around for 30-plus years,” she says. “Their taste doesn’t come close to what we’ve achieved and they’re loaded with chemicals. This presents T4 Adventure with a strong opportunity for to stand out from the crowd.”