Eat yourself fitter - foodies cashing in on a health boom
Local Heroes: The men making clean eating easier for everyone
During the recession, fitness really took off. We were looking for a way to de-stress on a budget, and the simple answer seemed to be to grab a pair of runners and take to the streets wherever, and whenever, to run and clear our heads.
Running became something of a national pastime, with those young and old limbering up both by themselves and with groups, just for fun or competing against others.
Now our economic climate is brightening, some savvy entrepreneurs are spotting a gap in the market to appeal to fitness fanatics who want their diet to be in as good knick as they are.
We've all heard about eating "clean" and taking supplements, but until recently, there were limited options available in Ireland. Many ordered their protein powders and glucose gels online from the UK.
Ray Shah opened Bodyfirst Nutrition in Clontarf, North Dublin in 2012.
"I'd been taking my fitness training seriously that year, and my diet had played a big part in me getting healthy again. I was travelling across the county to pick up my supplements and one day driving through Clontarf, I thought to myself 'why can't I get this stuff closer to home?'
"So it went from there, three months later we were open. I would never have classed myself as an entrepreneur but I've surprised myself by my ability to take charge. Bodyfirst Nutrition is now the fastest-growing sports nutrition company in the UK and Ireland."
Shah's shop is one thing, but e-commerce has been key to growing his business. Bodyfirst operates a website selling products and supplements, and delivers all over the country.
"Social media has played a big part in getting our name out there and we're the most followed sports nutrition company in Ireland."
However the business doesn't just cater to the die-hard fitness advocates, Shah says.
"I think what made Bodyfirst Nutrition stand out from others is that we focused on making it about fitness and getting healthy, not just about body building, which the industry had done for years," he says.
"The sports nutrition industry was very male-dominated but I wanted to shift part of that focus towards women, and provide an environment where they felt comfortable."
Shah is planning on expanding his business further. "Bodyfirst is still growing, and we will be opening a second store in a few weeks in Malahide. The second store is a franchise, and I'll be working very closely with the franchisees to make sure it's a big success.
"I'll make a decision after this new store on whether I'll work on opening another store myself or work towards making Bodyfirst Nutrition a proper franchise model."
Another fitness entrepreneur catering for those who want to eat better is Brian Lee. The 29-year-old from Kilbarrack in Dublin opened Chopped in 2012 on Baggot St, and another branch in Dublin 4 the following year.
This spring he will be opening the third outlet in Fairview. Chopped specialises in salads with top quality ingredients, healthy dressings and lots of fresh produce.
"I own a small convenience store in the city centre and I wouldn't eat out of my own deli because I knew the quality of the food just wasn't up to standard.
"For my generation, a quick meal in the local deli is often a chicken fillet roll. I've always been a fitness fanatic, and my frustration at this turned into a business idea.
"I knew it was a massive risk as quick healthy food concepts in Ireland hadn't taken off before. But mid-recession, I felt it was perfect time to take that risk as I could negotiate better deals with landlord and suppliers."
Chopped is a unique concept, with the theatre of chopping fresh salad ingredients like whole chicken fillets, veggies and leaves with a mezzaluna blade, while you wait.
Brian has recently launched the store on fast food website JustEat.ie, so customers can pre-order and collect from one of his stores.
"We have recently launched a delivery service which is taking off so well that we've built a separate facility to accommodate its demand. I often think back over the past few years when so many people I knew were unemployed. Now I employ over 40 people - it's amazing what a small business can do."
John McGovern used to be an accountant, but now he runs The Pure Kitchen, a meal delivery service for those trying to adhere to the principles of clean eating.
"I had the idea for healthy ready-made meals years ago, but realised I needed to know how to cook properly first!
"I moved down to Ballymaloe Cookery School for three months to retrain as a chef and following that was hired by Stephen Gibson in Pichet, Dublin. In my spare time, I was experimenting with dairy and grain-free ingredients to come up with the recipes which led to The Pure Kitchen being founded."
Like Shah, McGovern really saw the benefits of using social media.
"Our expansion came from organic growth in the first year-and-a-half. We now have our online shop up and running at thepurekitchen.ie and use social media primarily for our marketing."
Now John is happily cooking away and running a smooth-sailing business.
"Like most start-ups we incurred losses at the beginning but business has really picked up over the last while so I'm happy to say that we are profitable now, and looking to take on more staff soon."
So it seems that these fitness foodies aren't just in great physical shape - their finances are looking pretty good too. Not just a flash in the pan, the nutrition and health industry in Ireland is building all the time, with these three men savvy enough to be in on the ground floor.
Sunday Indo Business