The business success of WheyHey, a high-protein, low sugar and healthy ice cream, was hailed at Cork Chamber’s monthly business breakfast.
A native of Blarney Street on Cork’s northside and holder of a master’s degree in human performance, physiology and biomechanics from Brunel University, 33-year-old Damien Kennedy was living in London in 2012 when he and best friend Greg Duggan spotted a gap in the market for a healthy treat.
They bought an ice cream-making machine online and after much trial-and-error, came up with WheyHey, which contains 20g of protein — the same as a chicken breast — and only 7g carbohydrate and fat. Following a successful tasting with family, they found a mass producer in Cork.
Mr Kennedy told assembled Cork Chamber members at the Irish Examiner-sponsored breakfast: “We had no business background, were totally naive, and thought we were going to take over the world. We sold everything we owned to produce it.”
After a number of setbacks, he and Mr Duggan received the go-ahead from Holland & Barrett to make a €65,000 production run, where it became the best-selling product.
Premier League football clubs then came on board, as did the likes of British supermodel David Gandy, former heavyweight champion of the world David Haye, and Harry Styles and Niall Horan of One Direction.
Richard Branson had ordered WheyHey to be shipped to his Necker Island home in the Caribbean — but they had no idea how they were going to get it there.
Using a transport ship that carried human body parts, the shipment of WheyHey arrived on Necker Island, and Mr Branson was so impressed that he took the two budding entrepreneurs on as protégés.
WheyHey has since been introduced to NHS hospitals across Britain, is about to go to New York Presbyterian Hospital, has been introduced to Odeon cinemas across the UK, and has sold, in all, more than 1 million pots in Europe.
It is set to sell 4 million overall in 2016 and will double again in 2017. It is also being introduced in the Middle East.
However, he said that the huge corporations in the food industry realised that entrepreneurial spirit was taking them on without fear, and encouraged those with a good idea to reach for the stars.
He said: “It is the hardest thing we have ever done but I would say to those thinking of it to just go for it. Use a small market — test on a street. Go slowly but don’t be afraid to fail.”
He may eventually resettle in Cork, and the company could have a much larger presence in his home city in the future.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved