Boost for aspiring food start-ups

Ambitions for food export growth are being given a lift with this week’s Bord Bia Food Works open evenings.

Bord Bia is partnering with Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc and a selection of entrepreneurs to encourage aspiring food start-ups. The guiding targets are to boost food exports and to nurture job creation.

Successful Food Works applicants will be given mentoring, consumer insight consultancy, R&D assistance and a €5,000 feasibility grant.

Ray Coyle, chief executive of Tayto crisps producer Largo Foods, hosted the first of three Food Works open events in Tayto Park, Ashbourne, Co Meath, yesterday. He said: “The thrust is to get people motivated and tooled up for exports. If we can get four or five companies out of this a year creating jobs, that would be a great result.

“There is a lot of talent out there. People need to be given confidence in themselves, and Bord Bia and the other participants in this initiative will give them the skills to lay out their stall and add value to Ireland’s food sector, which has done a lot of good work with traceability and marketing.”

Largo Foods has enjoyed some great marketing coups in recent years, as attendees heard last night. On Sunday alone, some 4,000 people visited Tayto Park. White lions are due to arrive to the park in the near future.

Tayto and King crisps were already household names when Mr Coyle acquired the brands from C&C in 2006. Perhaps an even greater marketing coup than Tayto Park has been Largo’s advertisements for its Hunky Dory range, which have rivalled Ryanair in their ability to court media controversy and then milk it for all it’s worth.

“You have to make noise,” said Mr Coyle. “You have to tease the journalists into writing about you. There’s no point in just doing mun-dane advertising. It’s better to make people laugh.”

Mr Coyle’s talk covered the ups and downs of his business experience from 1983 to 2012. Originally from a farming background, he began growing potatoes in the 1970s.

As Tayto held around 85% of the domestic market share at the time, Mr Coyle felt there was room for competition. He launched Largo Foods in 1984 with nine people, six of whom are still with the company today. Hunky Dorys alone has retail sales of around €18m annually.

This week’s other two Food Works events will feature similar business stories. Other entrepreneurs supporting the initiative include Mary Ann O’Brien of Lily O’Brien’s chocolates, Cheesestrings creator Denis O’Brien of Kerry Foods and Larry Murrin of Dawn Farm Foods.

Two further events will take place this week, one tomorrow in Sheraton Hotel, Athlone, and another on Thursday in University College Cork’s western gateway building.

Bord Bia chairman Michael Carey said: “The fact that food entrepreneurs of the calibre of Ray Coyle and [Cuisine de France founder] Ronan McNamee are part of this initiative gives it even greater reality credence. They will share their personal business stories and practical experiences.”

As executive chairman and majority shareholder of the Jacob Fruitfield Food Group, Mr Carey also has invaluable personal experience to offer these budding food start-ups.

The JFF group was created in 2004 after Mr Carey bought out Fruitfield from Nestlé for a reported €8m and amalgamated it with Jacob’s Irish Biscuits, purchased from Danone for around €70m. JFF is now one of Ireland’s leading food businesses.

Mr Carey said: “At the Food Works events, we will be talking in depth about the programme. We will be looking at individuals and teams who want to start food businesses of scale with export ambitions.

“It is also very positive that we are bringing Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc together on this initiative. All three organisations have their own strengths and abilities, and all three are working closely together because they want to make this impactful.”

The programme was formally launched last week by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and & Sean Sherlock, the research and innovation minister.

Mr Coveney said: “Our target of growing food exports by 50% to reach €12bn before 2020 is ambitious; it requires huge commitment by private and public interests. Food Works is an example of development agencies working together in a new way to improve the climate and opportunities for growth and I look forward to it fostering new food businesses with high potential for development.”

This ambition was echoed by Mr Sherlock, who said that by bringing together the combined expertise of Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc, participants would have access to huge expertise in business development, consumer needs, market demand, production technologies and research.

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