Young couple behind healthy food startup look overseas as produce hits stores nationwide
Two young entrepreneurs behind an online Irish health food store have signed significant retail deals that sees its produce hit stores nationwide.
Evelyn Garland (25) and Luke Judge (27) established Simply Fit Food (SFF) in January 2016, delivering healthy meals and snacks using locally-sourced ingredients right to customers' doors.
Customer demand for on-the-ground access to their meals helped them find a foothold in the somewhat saturated market, leading to the opening of their first pop-up store in Drogheda last August.
The business duo are now stocking four performance-based meals in Dunnes Stores, Supervalu, Centra and Spar shops, available since the beginning of January in larger Dublin and Louth stores.
Over the next month, the new range will be rolled out nationwide, including 180 Spar stores across Northern Ireland, in collaboration with the Henderson Group.
Ms Garland said that the four month bricks-and-mortar pop-up, that first opened while the Fleadh Cheoil was taking place in Drogheda, proved that retail was the right direction to go in.
"It went really well and the feedback was really positive; it was the first time that we'd seen our customers in the flesh. It was great to dig deeper into that data, finding out what the demographics are, what else our customer wants," she told Independent.ie
"Now, with our produce on the shelves of bigger retailers, our sales have been steady since the start of the month and we know that it will work on a nationwide level."
It actually was a health scare that led to the origins of SFF; Judge was diagnosed with a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
The couple were already passionate about fitness and GAA players for Skerries Harps and Dreadnots in Clogherhead respectively, but Luke wanted to change the way he was eating after he had an operation to treat his condition.
While SFF impressed the TV dragons in an appearance on RTÉ's 'Dragons' Den' in 2017, the pair walked away without funding. However, the company made over 18,000 meals in their first year, and are now shedding their original structure as they expand.
"We found a Louth-based BRC-accredited partner as our orders were becoming so big, we needed to outsource our production to allow us to grow a lot bigger, faster," said Evelyn.
"Our online presence is now gone; as an online business you have to have a techie mind, which we don't, and we used to rely an awful lot on people to update the website and fix glitches.
"When we started out, we had no idea what was involved when it came to selling. After 18 months of problems with delivery that constantly reduced the profitability of our business, we couldn't find a solution until we put the products into local stores."
With more freedom - and time - to spend on business strategy now that they are out of the kitchen, Garland and Judge are working on using what they've learned from past mistakes and turning that into future success.
The pair are intending to launch a snack line by mid summer in addition to getting their stock into as many locations as possible by the end of 2019 and beyond.
"By early 2020, we are hoping to export to other European countries and develop our product line more. We have ambitious targets but now we've solved our production problem, we're planning to take Simply Fit Food further afield."