From snack boxes to cookies, food firms find a link
From snack boxes to cookies, this chain gang helps Dublin food firms promote their wares, says Lucinda O'Sullivan
I recently met a group of food producers who are part of Dublin Food Chain (www.dublinfoodchain.ie), a collaborative initiative of the Irish Exporters' Association and Dublin area Local Enterprise Offices. Dublin Food Chain is part of an ongoing effort to "harness the power of the 'collective' to ensure that Co Dublin's unique food heritage benefits from the attention it deserves."
Natasha Czopor started Natasha's Raw & Living Food business in 2009 and has seen it grow very quickly. The raw and living food movement is a diet based on naturally grown wild, or organically and sustainably raised fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains. Natasha's range is free of animal products and chemically processed or pasteurised ingredients. She never uses flour, dairy, wheat, eggs, meat or fish, which, she says, is great for people with allergies related to these foods. She does use nuts and superfoods.
Natasha got the idea for her business in America. "I cheffed in a raw restaurant in New York and came back and started in my house and with market stalls, but manufacturing was always my end goal."
She started in the Spade Enterprise Centre, in Dublin, before moving to a 2,000 sq ft unit in the Parkwest Enterprise Centre, in Parkwest, Dublin. "We are jammers, so now it's trying to find 5,000 sq ft and machinery to mechanise the product. I was in the UK at a trade show in September on natural products and the interest is just massive, especially in plant-based products."
Natasha's kale crisps have won her a Great Taste Award.
"I have a farmer who grows the kale in Mayo and we dehydrate it with sunflower seed sauce. I also have a guy on Inishmore who collects seaweed for me, which we put in lemon, onion and seaweed kale."
She now wants to get to the next level, often a problem for 'small' businesses.
"I have been asked to supply many more outlets than I do, but it's trying to mechanise the process, which is always the issue with companies like mine, who have a glass ceiling. People are interested but you have to be able to step over to not making your products by hand anymore.
"That's the big issue. Enterprise Ireland won't deal with me because I don't have 10 people employed or €1m turnover, even though I'm a high-potential start-up company, so that makes it quite difficult. Sometimes, you need to be connected with investors.
"We need investors looking for interesting and fast-moving companies to be interested in your product range and to see how they can help you to get to the next step.
"That's the real problem, finding the help, identifying the right machinery for products. Most people outsource production but I can't, as my products are quite innovative and there is no one drying foods, except in Eastern Europe."
Raman Patel, of Patel's Food Co, was very enthusiastic over its new One-der Curry Base Spice Blend, which allows you make up to eight different curries. Asked what 'Since 1941' meant on its branding, he told me that his grandfather had a spice farm in India.
"My father is a doctor who came to Ireland in 1957, where he met my mother."
Raman comes from a family who loves food and spices.
"Six of my aunts have catering businesses in Peterborough in England.
"The idea behind it was that so many friends say it's so hard to make a good curry. You basically put in your meat, chicken, or fish, onions and One-der blend.
"It's the same curry base but you can change it with just three ingredients."
Its target is the retail market and food service industry. It also has a catering service and gives Indian cooking classes, either in your own home for a group of six or more, or in its own kitchen at its venue in Dublin 15.
There is no doubt we have an endless appetite for Asian food in Ireland. This has spurred restaurateur Mohammed Rashid, who is originally from Bangladesh and has lived in Ireland for the past 18 years, to set up SAFCO, a company manufacturing Asian snacks and sauces, again for both the retail and trade sectors.
"We are also doing snack boxes, which are very popular now.
"There are five different kinds of foods in the snack box, including maybe shish kebab, samosa, falafel, gulab jamun - an Indian dessert dumpling - but you can order and vary the snack boxes, just like people would order a sandwich, with different fillings.
"We make everything from scratch," says Mohammed, adding his other big targets are the airlines and delis.
Mohammed's son, Manuf, says that with the snack boxes, the firm is trying to introduce the market to a wide variety of foods to really give people the experience.
"Everything is fresh, without salt and is gluten-free." www.safco.ie
Keith, Sammy and Sarah Johnson produce Sam's Cookies in Bray, Co Wicklow.
They are not new to the business of baking - in fact they are 21 years in business and the firm has won eight Blas Na hEireann and 19 Great Taste Awards for its products.
"We were predominantly producing own-label products for Superquinn and people like that, but now it has turned totally on its head since Superquinn unfortunately is no longer," says Sammy.
"We never really built a brand ourselves, as we were so busy supplying these companies. However, we are still in many stores, as Musgraves kindly gave us a listing." www.samscookies.ie
Having seen the demand for gluten-free products in their Douglas & Kaldi restaurant, Michael Kelleher and business partner Geraldine O'Shea set up Goodness Grains Bakery, producing a wide range of gluten-free products.
"We started production about a year ago, having taken about four years prior to that developing the range we now have," said Michael.
"We surveyed a lot of our coeliac customers to see what they wanted and then we spent the next 18 months developing the product.
"We were bringing it to the customer, letting them taste it through focus groups, taking the comments back to the chef and we eventually ended up with our range of products.
"We found in the restaurant that customers were coming in looking for gluten-free bread and we noticed that as we developed our menu to be coeliac-friendly, more customers were coming into us.
"So, we started saying to ourselves how much more can we arrange our menu around that. It's very simple really, with such things as not using a roux in soup. In making those basic changes we saw an increase in our customers."
The firm is producing quite an extensive range of gluten-free products, including fruit scones and muffins, chocolate chip cookies, almond and apple tray bakes, a lemon tartlet and gluten-free Danish pastries, which won a Great Taste Award. Its products are now available throughout Dublin. "All of that within a year," says Michael, beaming.