Business Irish

Saturday 3 December 2016

Newest Dragon betting big on our 'buy Irish' appetite at biscuit business

Published 17/04/2016 | 02:30

Alison Cowzer, the newest member of RTE’s Dragons’ Den panel. Photo: David Conachy
Alison Cowzer, the newest member of RTE’s Dragons’ Den panel. Photo: David Conachy

Alison Cowzer believes Ireland's appetite for home-grown produce is more than strong enough to overcome cravings for household names like McVities or Oreo.

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The newest member of RTE's Dragon's Den is confident that her new business, East Coast Bakehouse, will take a big bite out of the €220m Irish biscuit market, which she said is almost totally controlled by imported brands.

Cowzer and her husband Michael Carey, the chairman of Bord Bia, launched East Coast Bakehouse last year. The company is backed by Enterprise Ireland and private investors, such as Suretank's Patrick Joy. It has invested €15m in buying and fitting out a factory the size of a football pitch in Drogheda.

Its team of is now in discussions with several supermarkets to get products on shelves by this summer. The biscuits will be aimed at mass-market, everyday consumers, rather than artisan biscuit buyers. The company is also in talks to supply generic sweet treats which shops can sell under their own brands.

"We are really looking forward to providing something genuinely Irish in a market dominated by foreign companies," said Cowzer. "We are confident that Irish consumers will switch over when given the chance to buy local."

Cowzer and Carey made their fortune with food business Fruitfield, which they acquired in 2002 from Nestle. They grew the company rapidly and merged it with W&R Jacob, before selling Jacob Fruitfield to Valeo Foods in 2011.

The husband-and-wife team also run investment business The Company of Food and have taken stakes in the sports-nutrition company Elivar, Dublin tapas joint Zarazoga and employee-rostering start-up Bizimply.

In terms of her TV role, she is not just interested in food businesses, Cowzer stressed.

"I will be open to all kinds of businesses on Dragon's Den. To me, the person doing the pitching is actually more important than their business idea - their drive, passion and intelligence are the difference between failure and success."

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