Nualight looks forward to bright future

Perfino and Vivace may not be familiar to the public, but they impact on nearly everybody on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Italian words, meaning “even” and “vitality/enduring”, they are also forms of LED lighting developed by Cork-based Nualight and supplied to the likes of Tesco, Aldi, SuperValu and Superquinn, among many others, in 23 countries.

Lighting technology is developing rapidly, notably through LEDs (light-emitting diodes) with Nualight one of its brightest exponents, says chief executive and founder Liam Kelly.

“When we started this business in 2004, we were trying to persuade supermarkets of the merits of LED lighting for freezer doors,” he says. “Now 95% of all the freezer doors in the US have LED lighting. It is not quite that yet in Europe, but it is moving that way and we are at the forefront.

“We have 50%-60% of the UK market and more than 80% of the Swiss market and we expect the US to move from 20% to 40% of our business over the next two years.”

But these days, when a retailer buys into LED, in general, it is switched on by more than cost. It also lights the way to greater revenue.

“Supermarkets operate in a competitive environment and we are helping them to sell more product. Fresh produce brings shoppers to a supermarket; bread, fruit, vegetables, that’s where supermarkets put a lot of effort to differentiate from their competitors.

“In economy stores, generally, the light is uniform, but with others, the lighting is accentuated to deal with specific product, to enhance the shopper experience.”

Nualight’s headquarters is at Model Farm Road, in Cork, housing researchers, and a testing facility that is adjacent to manufacturing.

In one room, LED lighting has been shining for five years in a domestic freezer at -18C. Others have been turned on permanently for up to 10 years and all are monitored daily.

Nualight is rapidly shining its beam across the world. “We have 200 employees in total, including in North America, the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland, Austria and Switzerland,” says Mr Kelly.

“The staff in Cork number 100, with about 60% of those college graduates. We manufacture in Cork, but also in the US, the Netherlands and Poland. Basically, we need to manufacture close to the customer,” says Mr Kelly, who praised Enterprise Ireland for its support and help in breaking into foreign markets.

Importantly, he says jobs will be created.

“We will be expanding capacity in Ireland and, accordingly, increasing our operational support and engineering teams. Over the next two years, we expect to add 40-plus in Cork.”

He has no hesitation throwing light on the company’s potential for growth.

“We have had a compound annual growth rate of over 100% in the last four years. We are still the minnows compared to some companies, but we are targeting turnover of €50m this year and €100m in two years’ time. To date, we have been in a funding-for-growth mode, but expect to be profitable this year.

“We want to be a major player in what is a €3bn market, encompassing food retail, high-performance buildings and LED drivers, which we sell to lighting-fixture manufacturers.

“We have the capability to achieve this growth, in that we have a super management team and we have good investors in ESB NovusModus, the Quinn supermarket family, Climate Change Capital, a London-based clean tech fund; 4th-level ventures and, of course, the company founders.

“We were the number one EU player in 2011 in the food retail sector and one of the reasons is that we are innovators. In March, we won a lighting design award in Britain for Zest, which is designed to be used as suspended lighting in various parts of the store. It took a year and a half to develop and it will be a leader in its field. It gives remote control of colour to correspond with what’s underneath.

“Two weeks earlier, we won the prestigious Red Dot award. We were up against manufacturers from around the world, such as Philips, which is our main competitor in Europe.”

In that regard, it recently it got one up on the Dutch giant. “We have a new chief technical officer. From Mar 1, Dr Berry Kock, from the Netherlands, joined us from Philips. where he was manager of the 250-person advanced innovation lab. This is a coup for us. He likes our ethos and our approach to developing multiple niches and moving quickly with innovative products. He’s going to add strategic experience which will help us develop smarter lighting for intelligent buildings.

“For example, at Schiphol Airport, you will walk under lighting designed and manufactured by us. As you walk around, the brightness ramps up a bit and down when nobody is walking by.

“It doubles the energy saving, through built-in sensing. Best of all, people are not even aware it is happening.

“But LED lighting has so much more, in that as time goes by, we will be able to incorporate a means to transfer data through the light. so it can have a multiple purpose.”

Undoubtedly, the $100m (€76m) deal announced last month with US company Hussman is a major breakthrough for Nualight.

“It is our biggest partnership ever, with lots of potential. Hussman supply to all of North America’s supermarkets and also to South America.”

He highlighted the acquisition last year of Dutch firm Lumoluce for over €10m as another milestone. “Lumoluce was half the size of Nualight, but we liked their products and they had channels to market that would be useful to us. It also provides us with an ideal European headquarters.”

A couple of Nualight’s contracts have gone under the radar, due to non-disclosure agreements. One is to a major US conglomerate, while another involves supplying lights to one of the world’s largest international jewellery and high-end household accessory chains.

“We’ve been involved with this company for two years, and are providing lighting in 1,400 stores, including some in China. So far, it is worth a couple of million euro a year to us,” says Mr Kelly, who clearly anticipates a bright future for Nualight.

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