Reinventing the meal
The Food Works programme has just turned out its first batch of potential future global food entrepreneurs writes Joanna Roberts
Talya Lewin-Russell (left), co-founder of Superlife, with Rachel Flynn (right), co-founder of Nobo.
Chris Hill (left) and Matt Tindal (right) of Orpens Cider.
Len Dunne whose Elivar range of sports supplements will be launched in July.
‘Overall in terms of health, the line-up was very strong,” says Mary Morrissey, programme director of Food Works, a year-long scheme designed help individuals or young companies develop new products suitable for export. In March 2012, more than 100 people applied for the programme, which is a joint initiative by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc to find Ireland’s next global entrepreneurs.
“We had products for children, for the elderly, for sports. I suspect it will be strong in the next phase too; it’s a big trend,” says Morrissey. Eleven successful participants have just emerged from the programme with a viable product, an investor-ready business plan and a firm export strategy. Many of their products target the healthy eating sector.
Applications were whittled down based on whether the proposed product filled a new or previously unidentified consumer need, as well as on the applicants’ track record in business, either in the food sector or elsewhere and whether they have the passion, ability and skill to potentially grow these companies on the domestic and export market.
Participants receive marketing and consumer insight from Bord Bia, feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland and technical R&D assistance from Teagasc.
“The big thing is feasibility; really assessing the business to see whether it’s sustainable,” says Morrissey. “It’s almost easy to get into the food industry without thinking whether this is really going to work.”
For Rachel Flynn and Brian Nolan, both from Dublin, the future is dairy-free. The first product in their Nobó range is an “ice cream” made from avocado, cashew nuts and coconut cream and sweetened with honey.
“Our goal was to create a pure version of ice cream that had a healthier set of credentials without removing the indulgence aspect,” says Flynn. “There are no refined sugars, no additives.”
With a passion for food but no professional experience – their backgrounds are in advertising and finance – Flynn and Nolan moved to Italy for a few months in 2012 to work in a restaurant and decide if the food industry was for them. They concluded it was, and entered the Food Works programme with the concept for their new product.
“By September we had a product we were happy with. We sold it at farmers’ markets for a couple of months.”
The pair created the recipe themselves but received help from Teagasc to ensure the product was scalable. “We started with almond milk but that would have been impossible on a larger scale so we shifted to coconut milk.
“In the beginning you’re so enthusiastic that you want to jump in without analysing the financials or the potential to scale. It slowed us down in a good way – we know there is a business there; we have done the groundwork.”
The aim is for Nobó to be in Irish stores by June, concentrating on independent and premium retailers. After that, sights are set on the export market, with the UK and the US key targets.
There are currently two Superlife products on the market: a superfood smoothie mix (hemp, maca, lucuma, cacao, spirulina, chlorella, kelp and barley grass) and a superfood breakfast topping (hemp, cacao, chia, goji berries and mulberries).
It was after trying to sell bags of individual superfoods at Dún Laoghaire market that Diarmuid Russell, from Dublin, and his wife Talya, a holistic health counsellor from Israel, came up with the idea for a pre-prepared mix.
“People wanted to buy the superfoods but they were intimidated so we put them into blends,” says Lewin-Russell. “Everybody wanted the blends. We’re now also developing 30g grab-and-go snacks.”
When Superlife entered the Food Works programme, the products were already in 50 health food stores in Ireland. They are now being sold in 175 stores in Ireland and around 130 stores in the UK.
“What we carried from Food Works was the insight into how the food industry works and how to do everything correctly, from product to testing to design,” she says.
“We outsource everything. Our principle is, ‘how can we run our business from our iPhone?’ We keep it as simple as possible.”
The next step is to start exporting to Europe. “It’s about getting the channels and the financing,” says Lewin-Russell.
A range of sports supplements aimed at middle-aged athletes was a mere twinkle in Len Dunne’s eye when he entered the Food Works programme. Although he had the concept and a hypothesis that there was a gap in the market, the products themselves were still to come.
A keen rower up to his late-20s , he rediscovered sports in his 40s and realised his endurance and recovery needs were different from when he was younger.
“Most sports supplements our aimed at elite athletes or people in their 20s,” he says. “Our core market is 40-50 year-olds doing endurance sports like running, cycling and triathlons. The supplements help muscle repair and joint support and have complex sugars to give a flatter curve of energy.”
The first range of products will launch in July and will include three formulations of powdered drink: one for pre-training, one to increase endurance during training and one to aid recovery. Plans are to market the products on amazon.co.uk and independent cycling stores in the UK and Ireland, before rolling out to health stores and continental Europe.
Some of Ireland’s biggest export successes are alcoholic drinks, something Chris Hill, from Dublin, and his partner Matt Tindal, from Donegal, are hoping to replicate with Orpens Cider.
Both men have a background in the wine trade and it was the passion of the wine producers they met on their travels that provided the inspiration to produce a drink of their own. “It’s made from a high proportion of cider apples and juice so it has a deeper-layered flavour and is drier without being too dry,” says Chris.
“We’re aiming for 25-45 age group; people who may have given up drinking cider because they find it too sweet.”
The product has been on the market in a limited number of independent retailers since June 2012. The plan is to roll out further into Ireland and then expand overseas.