Irish food start-ups beginning to scale new heights

Ireland’s food export sector is thriving, according to latest figures from Bord Bia. Irish beef exports are worth €2.5bn annually, and dairy, valued at €4bn now accounts for one-third of our food and drink exports, writes Ruth Doris.

Irish food start-ups beginning to scale new heights

Taking advantage of Ireland’s global reputation for small producers, quality raw materials and clean, unspoilt environment, dairy start-up Anú Dairy is producing vitamin K2-rich organic Irish butter, while family business Rucksnacks makes snacks from grass-fed Irish beef.

Ireland is now Europe’s largest exporter of butter, with overseas sales of Irish butter up 60% to almost €900m in 2017.

Kevin Kennedy of Anú Dairy is riding the wave of Irish butter’s surge in popularity. However, he says his organic product, from 100% grass-fed cows, has something extra special; a high level of Vitamin K2.

Mr Kennedy, who owns the Crossfit gym in Cork, started researching the benefits of Vitamin K2 in the diet when he became interested in what he calls the “ancestral health movement.”

While the word Paleo has been used to describe the trend, he says it’s really about improving health by going back to the way our ancestors ate, and that means meat and vegetables.

“People are shifting away from low fat spreads and moving back to butter,” he said

Through his research, he found a link between the level of K2 in milk and the health of the soil. Organic farming improves and preserves the microbiome diversity of the soil, which is converted across into the milk, he said.

Starting out with SOSV accelerator in 2016, then known as Indie Bio, now called Rebel Bio, based in UCC, Mr Kennedy was initially looking at developing a probiotic. Then he got interested in K2. The company worked with a farmer in Limerick and decided to bring the butter to market instead.

As butter only uses about 5% of the raw material, Mr Kennedy said the company is developing other products such as high protein yogurts, probiotic drinks and kefirs to utilise the leftover skim. So far the Kinsale-based business has received €90,000 in funding from SOSV for an 8% equity share.

The company also received support from the Local Enterprise Office in the form of feasibility and priming grants and an ‘innovation voucher’ from Enterprise Ireland.

Currently Anú Dairy is concentrating on the German organic market which is worth about €8bn.

Alongside its product development Mr Kennedy said Anú Dairy’s mission is about creating nutritious products from healthy soils and making the farmer money and to get consumers connected with their local farmers and stimulate rural communities.

Biodiversity

Irish farmland is 82% grass, and with 400,000 km of hedgerows, there is “amazing” biodiversity on Irish farms, Mr Kennedy claims.

He believes that by encouraging more farmers to embrace organic farming, Irish agriculture, especially beef and dairy, can play a positive role in climate change.

Rucksnacks founder Colm Connolly grew up in a fifth-generation beef cattle farm in Co Monaghan. While travelling, he discovered biltong, a traditional South African snack, similar to beef jerky, and had the idea to make an Irish version using beef from the family farm.

He said using Irish beef to make his product makes it stand out from the other beef snacks on the market.

“We’re hoping to use those credentials of Irish beef when we go into more export markets. And that’s one of the keys things I noticed with tasting other beef snacks across the world; the difference in flavour and texture and taste that we can achieve with Irish beef; it’s a world apart.”

Mr Connolly received funding from his Local Enterprise Office and support from Enterprise Ireland, including an ‘innovation voucher’ which allowed the company to partner with a food college, Loughry College in Cookstown, to develop flavours.

Having spent one year in development, Rucksnacks’ products are now stocked in SuperValu shops in Cavan, Monaghan, Meath and Dublin and are also available to buy online.

Mr Connolly is looking to expand significantly in 2018 into gyms and independent retailers by promoting Rucksnacks as a healthy and tasty alternative to protein bars.

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