Sunday 4 December 2016

Paleo diet guru triumphs over giants

Joanne Davey's line of artisan Paleo and high protein treats and snacks are beating off stiff competition in a David and Goliath-like coup, writes Joanna Kiernan

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Joanne Davey’s nutritional food range benefited from the SuperValu Food Academy programme
Joanne Davey’s nutritional food range benefited from the SuperValu Food Academy programme

A little over a year and a half ago, nutritionist and mother-of-four Joanne Davey began producing her own line of artisan Paleo and high protein foods. Her company - Joanne's Absolute Nutrition - is now going from strength to strength in an increasingly over saturated and cut-throat health food market. So just what is the secret of this 36-year-old nutritionist?

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"The competition in this market is huge, but I think sometimes people lose sight of what they are doing," Joanne says. "My aim is to make quality products, and have a successful, family business. Everything we make is what I would eat myself or I would give to my children, and I want to stock it in places where people want the same.

"I would not like to outsource abroad or bring things in in big containers; our products will always be naturally handmade from me to you and people like to know that. And there is a level of trust because that is where we stand."

Joanne takes pride in being the real deal.

"If you see me first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or any time in between for that matter, I do not look like a model, I look like a tired mam with a hundred things to do," Joanne laughs. "It can be frustrating when you see someone who is well known coming out with a product and you know that they are not actually the ones making the stuff in the kitchen, but I think people are now realising how false a market it can be."

A huge part of Joanne's appeal comes from her no-nonsense approach to healthy eating, inspired greatly by motherhood.

"Myself and James [her husband and partner] were always interested in going to the gym," Joanne explains. "But when I had my first child Evan ten years ago, I began feeding my kids well and really getting into the nutrition side of things more and more. I love food and always have, but I was suddenly much more aware of what we were eating when I had my children. I would always make sure that I was using clean ingredients and not putting in any added sugar or gluten into their diet."

Joanne learned of the paleo approach to nutrition from fellow gym goers. Paleo advises eating less processed foods, sugar and salt.

"I wouldn't be 100pc Paleo myself because I love things like lentils and potatoes, but the key areas of the Paleo philosophy - like taking sugar and chemicals out of your diet - really made sense to me; simply eating clean, unprocessed and natural foods," Joanne says.

Shortly after having her daughter Ciara four years ago, Joanne began attending Kickstart Fitness, a gym in Tallaght.

"It was a brilliant gym, but they had a little cafe downstairs and there was nothing healthy in it," Joanne says. "It was all chocolate bars and cakes, so I was joking with Darren the owner about this one day - and he told me he would love to get healthy stuff to stock in it.

"I was always making Paleo treats just for myself and my family, so I went home that night and the next day I brought in some different treats and everyone in the gym loved them. That was literally how it all started and it has just snowballed from there."

Within months, demand was so high that production had to move from Joanne's kitchen into a purpose built workshop beside her home.

"Our workshop is in my dad's yard and it is a EHO [Environmental Health Office] approved catering container that we had dropped in. We started off in my kitchen and then we got the container and we thought it would do us for five years, but we only got it a year ago and we have outgrown it already," Joanne smiles.

"We have four people employed with us and then me. We have a big two-storey double garage that we are going to convert now into a commercial kitchen and we are hoping that it will do us for five years, but you never know."

Joanne's Absolute Nutrition range is now stocked in 30 SuperValu stores, all of Dublin's four Fresh supermarkets, Cavistons, Discount Supplements, BodyFirst Nutrition and The Protein Store, as well as a variety of gyms and a number of other smaller shops across Leinster such as Swan's of Naas and Brennan's Maxol Mace in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

"We are working on our website at the moment, and people can order from me directly on the Facebook page too. We have a courier service for anywhere nationwide," Joanne explains. "And the demand is literally 24/7.

"It has been the toughest year and a half - even though it has been the most exciting - because we work seven days a week," Joanne admits. "Family wise it is a little bit of a juggling act, but we always have dinner together, and when the kids are gone to bed sometimes we just stay up and work through the night."

Despite not being in business very long, Joanne's customer base has grown exponentially thanks to simple word of mouth.

"People are becoming so much more aware of what they are putting into their bodies now, but taste is still a very important factor in this market," Joanne says. "Everyone will try something - people love a new product - but if the taste is not there, they're not going to drive to the shop especially to get it.

Joanne's health conscious products have also been attracting well known fans.

"I got to know Paddy Holohan, who is an Irish MMA fighter and he introduced me to John Kavanagh's gym SBG, where all of Ireland's big MMA fighters train, including Conor McGregor," Joanne explains. "They have been so supportive and all of the guys down there have done tastings. So we now sponsor some of the guys in SBG, like Blaine O'Driscoll, Lee Hammond and Aisling Daly, and provide them with clean treats.

"Our only marketing tool really has been social media so far and we have put a lot of effort into it and interact and answer everyone on our Facebook page, which has allowed people to really get to know us," Joanna adds.

"I pop up the odd little picture of my kids because I am not a model, I am not a socialite, I don't have a big background in business or anything like that; I am a mam and I work hard and I think a lot of people relate to that."

Joanne has benefited from support and training through the SuperValu Food Academy programme, which is run in conjunction with Bord Bia and the Local Enterprise Office Network. And the support of family members has also played an integral role in Joanne's success.

"I was thrown in the deep end, and it was definitely sink or swim - but it has only worked because I have a really good support network," Joanne explains. "My family are really good and my parents have to help out 24/7 as we have four kids.

"I have learned a lot from my mam too," Joanne adds. "Years ago she worked in Urney Chocolates in Tallaght, so she knows so much about moulds and all the machinery, the flow of the kitchen and the production line, so that's been brilliant."

However, Joanne has every intention of growing her business and reach as soon as they can comfortably manage to do so.

"Up scaling is the next big thing that we are focusing on now, I want to further our reach too because the demand is there," Joanne says. "So Leinster is the target for this year and then I want to go nationwide next year."

"I am confident in my brand, even if someone else comes along doing the same stuff, once I am happy with my own brand, that is all that matters to me," Joanne adds.

"The best advice I ever got was to focus on your own business and nobody else's. It's like the fighters in SBG - if they worry too much about their opponents, it'll get into their heads and they lose focus. So I don't pay attention to the competition, I just keep going."

For more information, see facebook.com/absnutfoods/

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