Saturday 24 February 2018

On the lips, not on the hips is aim for Slender Choice pair

Bill Cullen believes that small food companies need to come up with something to let them stand out from other brands on the shelves

Bill Cullen

'Big Taste, Small Waist' is the tagline of the dynamic couple Karen and Frank Daly of Slender Choice ready-made meals. It's something that every household in Ireland aspires to but how to achieve it, well that's the challenge that faces us every time we get the hunger pangs.

Obesity is a huge health problem in the modern world where we are surrounded by images of food and bombarded with advertising of tempting treats with which we gladly stuff ourselves. We fool ourselves that we will start the diet tomorrow. It is well documented that eating the wrong foods causes all sorts of health problems from heart disease to diabetes, high cholesterol and loss of energy. The list is endless. This is the legacy of the so-called modern affluent world.

When I was growing up, we were deemed to be disadvantaged as we lived in the inner city slums with a large family of 14 to feed. It was only later in life that I became aware that in many ways the opposite was, in fact, true.

I learned all my basic business skills in the 'school of hard knocks'. As kids, we learned how to work hard as we had jobs to do before we went to school in the morning, like getting up at 4.30am to get the train to Howth to buy the fish straight off the trawlers, cutting out two middle-men.

After school, we had another business going, rearing pigs and we had to go out to collect all the food wastes from the housing estates in Cabra and Marino to feed them so we were constantly on the go. Plenty of exercise, no sitting in watching television, or playing on computer screens. They hadn't been invented back then, of course – and anyway learning how to run a business takes up all your time.

Of course, the ma sold fruit and vegetables in Henry Street outside Arnotts, a great pitch and the granny sold fish all round the city.

'It was the perfect diet. Meat only on Sundays, the rest of the week was fresh fish, fruit and vegetables'

Yes, we learned about business – but as our focus was on selling fruit, vegetables and fish, we also had the best fresh food anyone could buy. It was the perfect diet. Meat once a week, only on Sundays, corned beef and cabbage, the rest of the week was fresh fish, fruit and vegetables direct from the market.

We had no car and never had any money for a bus so we ran everywhere, covering many miles every day. As a result, we were slim, fit young people; there was no obesity in my family.

My interest in health and fitness today made me notice a new food company called Slender Choice. I met with owners Karen and Frank Daly from Dundalk, Co Louth.

Slender Choice was the brainchild of Karen who found herself four stone overweight after the birth of her first child. She joined Slimming World to reduce her weight and was successful. She was so excited by this foray into the slimming world that she decided to set up her own slimming business.

One of the drawbacks she found when she was on her own weight-loss programme was the limited choice of food available and so she decided to set up her own unique selling point – food with a wide choice, nutritious, healthy and which tastes delicious as well.

Slender Choice was launched in 2011 and by 2012 the Dalys enjoyed the success of having their food products in both Superquinn and Dunnes Stores followed by Tesco and Supervalu.

The biggest support for their company came from their appearance on RTE's Dragon's Den where three of the Dragons were interested. This eventually led to Niall O'Farrell offering an investment of €55,000 in the business for a 45 per cent stake. The Dalys were flattered by the offer – €55,000 was a big sum of money to invest in building the company – but they eventually walked away from that investment as they didn't want to give away such a big share of their business.

Slender Choice is growing through the outsourcing of its products. This is an interesting concept in the food business which gives the company a wide choice of suppliers.

To ensure their meals were healthy and delicious tasting, the Dalys did a lot of research and came up with many healthy recipes that became really delicious foods for everyday meals. They produce sausages and lasagne that are low-fat and gluten-free, and which really reflects their tagline Big Taste, Small Waist.

In the current economic climate, Slender Choice has struck a chord with the couples who are both working and determined to beat the recessionary challenges.

Quickly prepared, healthy food is ideal and supports the fitness ethos in its low-calorie content. Most dishes can be cooked in the oven in 20 minutes or in the microwave in four minutes.

Slender Choice won the Best New Taste of 2011 award and is now in the final of the 2013 Startup Awards. The question is: can Slender Choice grow bigger and expand faster with a focus on an exit strategy down the road?

It's fair to say that Slender Choice is a new brand making a name for itself and like all start-up companies with a good product, the Dalys are finding it tough when the competition includes well known brands with big marketing budgets. In addition, all the major supermarkets have their 'own brand' prepared meals ready for the oven, and that includes fish, chicken and meat dishes. Right now, the Slender Choice brand recognition is an issue.

So guys, it's time to 'Get on Your Bike' and to stand out from the myriads foods in the overcrowded supermarkets.

Organise a Come Dine With Me-type challenge using your ready meals. Present it as a marketing campaign to a supermarket chain to roll out all over the country.

Get involved with a gym chain and sponsor a monthly 'Great Taste, Small Waist' competition for the biggest weight loss.

Organise a 'Healthy Sausage Day' with schools and give them a tasting of your delicious sausages. Win over the kids and you capture the household.

Organise a celebrity dinner party using your ready meals and don't tell the guests until afterwards what food they were served. Do this in conjunction with a magazine and/or charity.

Get involved with charity and give away a prize of ready meals for a week to a family in need. All good PR and it costs very little.

You also need to be available in more convenience stores where people in a hurry just drop in to grab something to eat. Design a "Hungry" app telling people where their nearest Slender Choice stockist is. Hungry people just want instant gratification.

So Karen and Frank, I look forward to your plan of action so you can get your healthy meals in every home. The Government's health budget is shot so we need a saviour to reduce the bills.

Irish Independent

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