The Monday Interview: Delivering on healthy food promises

College friends and now partners in a thriving business, Micheal Dyer and Conor McCallion are hoping to expand Clean Cut Meals into the US. Picture: Ray Ryan

Co Galway firm Clean Cut Meals has built a profitable business making and delivering thousands of healthy food orders across the country. It now has plans to take a bite of the US market, writes Pádraig Hoare

From cooking up a few healthy meals for friends four years ago to taking 50,000 orders across the country, Galway-based Clean Cut Meals has set its ambitions to conquer the US market.

Micheal Dyer and Conor McCallion were two college friends who spotted an Irish gap in a burgeoning global market — fresh meals delivered for fitness and health-conscious consumers.

Clean Cut Meals, which started in a home kitchen cooking for friends and family, surpassed 50,000 customers last year, distributing over 500,000 meals in the Republic and the North in the five years.

It now has a 13-strong staff at a new facility in Clarinbridge, with plans to bring it to the US.

Mr Dyer said: “I did culinary arts and Conor did hotel and catering management. The business spurred from one of convenience, we had both been interested in keeping fit —Conor was into martial arts, I’d be going to the gym. We found it was tough when training — we couldn’t have our meals prepared all the time. That’s where the idea came from. We’d seen it done overseas of course, but there was a gap in the market here.

“We started to make batches of meals in my house. I cooked meals for myself and Conor because I was a chef, and then my friends would ask for a couple of meals, and that’s how it caught on.”

The niche market has competitors as fitness and bodybuilding become more mainstream, but Clean Cut Meals has thrived because of it, according to Mr Dyer.

“I don’t believe the market is maxed out, it’s actually a young market. There are a lot of competitors coming to the table frequently, but we’re lucky to have that stamp in the market, having launched early, with brand awareness out there with 38,000 Facebook and 32,000 Instagram likes. We’ve spent a lot of time on pushing the brand awareness out there over the past four years.

“We were always very cautious about how we were to grow it. We were careful because I was concerned about the workload in the kitchen and we didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin and overpromise and underdeliver, because people would just lose complete faith in the brand. We’ve moved to new premises, and I believe we could scale another 200%.

“We take trips to see what firms are doing abroad and what we can bring back to Ireland because the market is still quite young. Competition is needed for us in order to do your best for customers. We don’t want to be stagnant. We’re looking at packaging from Germany that would be able to extend shelf-life for a few days. Obviously, Brexit is o n the horizon but even if it wasn’t going to the UK, we could ship the food to Europe with this new packaging,” he said.

International expansion is a major ambition for Clean Cut Meals, said Mr Dyer.

“We have visions of being in multiple countries, I’m very keen on getting into the US. The market there is absolutely booming. We’re going to spend a lot of time and effort into getting over there and hopefully we can in the next eight months. We’ve had offers of franchises, but I would like to run it ourselves, scale it and see how it goes,” he said.

Clean Cut Meals employs 13 staff at its new facility in Clarinbridge, Co Galway, and are projected to turn over €2.4m this year.

That US focus may mean bringing in investment.

“We are working with the Local Enterprise Office here in Galway, which has been fantastic. We now have 13 staff and are projected to turn over €2.4m this year. There was talk with Enterprise Ireland, and we’re still not sure what route we will go down, but we are definitely looking for a third-party or angel investor.

“We haven’t gone down the Enterprise Ireland route fully yet, so if they can help that would be great, but I do think we need an investor, and ideally someone on the ground over there.

“I’d have no objection moving there myself, but it would be great to have someone who knows the lay of the land and has the contacts in the US,” he said.

The well-documented shortage of chefs in the industry has not been an issue for Clean Cut Meals, according to Mr Dyer.

“Our biggest selling point is the food — changing the menu frequently, and our customer service. Whenever anything goes wrong, we say let’s just concentrate on the food because that is what is selling and what people want.

“We are definitely more appealing to chefs, I believe. When we embarked on this vision, that is something I wanted to leave the culinary game for, because I wanted to have more time for myself, family, socialising — I didn’t want to do the long slog all the time. I did an add-on year for a graduate entrepreneurship programme, which gave me the knowledge to start my own business.

“We offer earlier starts and earlier finishes. We are a close team, quite young, and everyone is friendly with each other, ” he said.

“Mondays and Tuesdays are chefs’ days off, but Conor and I come in as deliveries go out. It’s super exciting and we think there’s a lot more to come.”

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