Monday 19 March 2018

Local Heroes: Entrepreneur hungry for success with kale crisps

Jack Parsons is on a mission to offer consumers a tasty alternative to traditional snacks with the launch of his organic O'Kale Krisps brand, writes Joanna Kiernan

Despite still being in college Jack Parsons has ambitious plans for his business, O’Kale Krisps. Photo: Andrew Downes
Despite still being in college Jack Parsons has ambitious plans for his business, O’Kale Krisps. Photo: Andrew Downes
Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

Last September, when the majority of other final year university students started battening down the hatches for their last few months before life 'the real world', Jack Parsons (21) launched his O'Kale Krisps, tasty crisp snacks made from organic kale.

The idea for O'Kale Krisps took root four years ago, when Parsons's younger sister Sally made kale crisps to enter in a local entrepreneurial competition. It grew when Parsons saw the popularity of kale snacks during his J1 travels in the USA.

"I went to New York for the summer and I started seeing kale crisps everywhere," Parsons said. "I suppose I always had the interest in them since Sally won that competition, so I started tasting what was out there and noticing the huge market for them in the US.

"They had kale crisps everywhere, but none of them really compared to the taste of the ones that we had made at home, so that, coupled with the fact that you can't really get kale crisps in Ireland at scale, led me to think 'why not give it a go?'"

From next summer, Parsons, who is currently studying Business and Law at UCD, hopes to grow the O'Kale Krisps business exponentially. While his peers are discussing their career options, Parsons is busy creating his own.

"I am in my final year so I am just trying to get it done," Parsons said. "I always knew I was going to start a business, it was just a matter of when, not if and I always had the idea in mind that I would have a job set up for myself by the time I finished college.

"I have messed around with a few other ideas throughout college, but this has a lot of things going for it; the fact that it is super healthy and the health trend is growing, everything seemed to meet at the right time and so far so good."

Parsons seized an opportunity to launch O'Kale Krisps in September when it arose.

"I was working with another startup, which was running an event in Dublin. They couldn't pay us, but they had one exhibition space free, so I told them would work for free if they gave me that exhibition space - that is what I used to launch O'Kale Krisps," Parsons said.

"I had 10 or 11 days to put everything together and just launch it, so it was a case of jumping in the deep end. I am kind of going back now and figuring things out as we go along."

O'Kale Krisps, which are made using local organic kale from Beechlawn Organic Farm beside Parsons's home place in Ballinasloe, Co Galway and other fresh natural ingredients, have quickly become a hit.

"There was a lot of trial and error at the beginning and we got a lot of feedback on the recipe, but the one we have nailed down now, our number one flavour is doing really well and we have two more flavours in development at the minute, which are pretty close to going to retail," Parsons said. We try and keep all of the ingredients wholesome and limit the amount of powders and processed stuff we put into it, to keep everything as healthy as possible.

"We did a fair in Galway at the end of November and we sold out, which was incredible and on the back of that, we got into a number of health stores. Now we are getting requests from other cafes and health stores around the country asking if can we supply to them," Parsons added.

"The interest in O'Kale is unbelievable when you think that we are only up and running a few months."

O'Kale Krisps are stocked in a number of stores around Galway, including the Honest Kitchen in Knocknacarra, Morton's Of Galway in Salthill, Francis Spar in Spiddal and McCambridge's Of Galway on Shop Street.

Parsons is considering the best approach to up-scaling O'Kale's production facilities, without damaging the ethos of the business.

"It is all still in-house and we are playing with that idea of whether we want to keep it in-house altogether because there are a lot of benefits to keeping production local and making sure all of the ingredients are local and that kind of thing," Parsons said.

"But, at the minute we cannot meet the demand that we have production-wise, so we may have to look at a third party making the crisps for us."

"Come May, when I finish college I am looking to really scale it up, so I am working to have a really strong foundation in place so I can springboard off that, once I have tied up these loose ends in UCD," Parsons added.

"I am really lucky in the sense that I know exactly what I am going to do after college; I'm putting things in place now and I am on target to do it."

For the moment, Parsons divides his time between Dublin and Galway, spending his weekends at home engaged in production and his free time during the week working on the administration side of the business

"A big thing I have found really helpful is just cold-calling people, starting a relationship and getting them to taste the product," Parsons said. "I don't want people to stock it if they don't think it is of value to them, but I am keen to give people a taste of the product and show them the vision that we have at O'Kale.

"The fact that people don't generally think of kale as very tasty is both our biggest disadvantage and our biggest advantage because the wow factor is there when people actually taste the product.

"Social media is also an incredible tool. The fact that it is essentially free is huge," Parsons added. "Every business needs to get as much out of social media as they can and the way to do that is to engage with people and reply to comments and messages; if you care first, others will care back and that has helped to create a kind of community around us."

Parsons was heavily engaged in sports as a child and played Gaelic for Galway and, as such, his interest in healthy food goes further than business logic.

"People feel way better when they eat well - it's really just a rational approach to living," Parsons said. "No matter what you are doing in life, if you improve your diet it will have incredible effects on your productivity."

So what is the goal for O'Kale Krisps over the next few years?

"We want to be one of the top-selling healthy snack brands in Ireland in five years time," Parsons said. "I definitely want to focus on moving into the UK market too, but I am under no illusion how hard it will be for us - 80pc of the population have never heard of O'Kale Krisps or any type of kale crisps. You can see that as a disadvantage, or you can see it as an advantage. We will be their first contact with such a product."

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