Thursday 22 February 2018

Samantha McCaughren: McNamee free to sell bread to Walmart's customers

Ronan McNamee of BFree
Ronan McNamee of BFree
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Ronan McNamee - of Cuisine de France fame - is back in the food business with BFree, a range of gluten-free and wheat-free products including wraps, bagels and pizza bases. Set up in 2011, the business had racked up accumulated losses of nearly €1.8m to the end of 2015. But it said sales increased during 2016 and that it expected this to be reflected in the full-year results.

Now, it has secured a deal to appear on shelves in Walmart stores in the US, which should help propel it towards profitability.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Facebook ceo Mark Zuckerberg in California last week
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Facebook ceo Mark Zuckerberg in California last week

Walmart is locked in a battle for retail supremacy in the US with Amazon - which has just bought the up-market Whole Foods - and McNamee's produce should help win the custom of healthy types.

McNamee is nothing if not tenacious, having taken a row with Revenue over capital gains tax payments all the way to the Supreme Court, which eventually ruled in the taxman's favour.

He had a big win as founder of Cuisine de France, which was sold for more than IR£60m to what is now Aryzta.

He also amassed a big collection of investment property on and around Grafton Street, which was put on the market last year and eventually sold to German property giant Hines for some €55m - well over the €40m guide price.

Will McNamee be as fortunate in the land of the gluten-free?

Minister Ross stays focused on every strike of the ball

Good to see that at least one minister was relaxing last Tuesday evening. Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross was focused very much on the ‘sport’ part of his brief. It was just after 9pm and he was watching the football and helpfully — in case some us might have been watching the news — he was making sure the people of Ireland were kept fully informed of the details of what was unfolding at Old Trafford.

“Man U lead 1-0 against Benfica. Both Finian and I want to back Man U so no bet. Sixty one minutes gone but by no means over,” he tweeted. It was a most unfortunate own goal, going in off the Benfica keeper’s backside.

Meanwhile, in unrelated news about which the Minister was definitely not tweeting, the country’s entire rail network was shut down all day Wednesday. Let’s hope Minister Ross can avoid a Benfica-style own goal as that story progresses over the winter.

* * * * *

It was a sign of Ireland’s maturity that we cared little about the fact that Leo Varadkar was the gay son of an Indian immigrant when he was elected — a hat-trick to boot — as Ireland’s youngest-ever Taoiseach. But it was the “gay son of an Indian immigrant” headline that reverberated around the world when Ireland’s answer to Justin Trudeau sprinkled with an essence of Monsieur Macron placed his hand on the tiller.

Last week, Varadkar embarked on a trade mission to the US west coast, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that “several hundred” new jobs are to be created at the mega tech company’s European base in Dublin.

The announcement might help distract from the collapse, in all but name, of Apple’s proposed data centre in Athenry.

But could the future of FDI lie not West, but in the East? Word reaches me that Varadkar may be off to India next year.

The IDA is just back from a wee reccie there, no doubt with a few jobs goodies in tow. That will knock the socks off the headline writers.

UK law firms eyeing Irish bases in wake of Brexit

Halloween delivered another scary bedtime story for Ireland’s Brexit-spooked legal sector with news that even more London law firms are looking to Dublin for a foothold now that the spectre of a no-deal Brexit is hanging in the air. Field Fisher Waterhouse is the latest top LLP reportedly wafting across the Irish Sea, entering Northern Ireland via a tie-up with a local legal consultancy as a Dublin launch moves up the agenda, according to Legal Week.

Pinsent Masons was the first Blighty firm to open in Dublin in the wake of last year’s dreaded Brexit vote, snapping up Irish-based lawyers and making it one of the one of a handful of firms with an all-Ireland presence.

The good news for our new neighbours is that the legal sector here is stepping up the diversity game, according to The Lawyer’s annual European 100 report.

Of the 17 big European firms where women represent over 30pc of the partnership, six are French and six Irish. William Fry leads the way with 36.3pc of female partners.

* * * * *

Ask any SME staring down the hard yards of Brexit and they will tell you how they are trying their best to hold on to the pounds as their business is whipsawed by currency volatility. But one SME guru has been on an epic journey to lose a few pounds — 99 of them, in fact.

A huge hat tip to Rob Cullen, SME membership manager at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, who shared news of his stunning weight loss — 7st, 1lb in all — after embarking on a health kick with his wife Yvonne Cullen, who also lost five stone in the last year. The last pound took forever, Cullen — who once weighed almost 20 stone and whose original goal was to lose five stone —  told me last week. 

The couple, who have two children, took to Slimming World after seeing pictures taken of them at a wedding in Spain.

Cullen has even inspired Dublin Chamber to place fresh fruit alongside the pastries and sandwiches at their events. We’ve heard of belt-tightening in the SME sector but this certainly takes the biscuit. Or not.

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