A Japanese flour inspired entrepreneur Roisin Hogan to get into ready-made foods, explains Trish Dromey.
For Louth Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur finalist, Roisin Hogan, starting a new food business began with giving up cigarettes.
While still a smoker she worked as an accountant with Ernst & Young.
When she stopped she researched healthy eating, discovered Japanese vegetable flour, came up with an idea for innovative healthy ready-meal food products and within a year had also given up her job.
In the two and a half years since she embarked on a new career, she has reached the semi-final of BBC reality TV show The Apprentice, developed a range of health food products, set up a new food company called Hiro and launched nationwide in both Supervalu and Centra.
The most important ingredient in all of this has been Japanese konjac flour which Ms Hogan explains is carbohydrate free.
“Using it to make carbohydrate free noodles and pasta we have produced the lowest calorie ready meals available on the market anywhere — meals which are also nutritious and healthy,” she says.
The flour is sold in health food shops but she believes Hiro is the first to use it to create a range of ready meals.
Currently offering four products including chicken stir-fry and chow mein, she plans to extend the range to six products later this year.
The winner of the Louth Best Young Entrepreneur award for 2016, and one of 24 finalists in the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur (IBYE) competition being held next month, Ms Hogan is now turning her attention to exports.
The discovery of vegetable flour came in 2013, the year she quit cigarettes.
She took action on her idea for a healthy food company when she saw an ad for The Apprentice.
Quitting her job in October 2014, she reached the semi-final in December before being fired.
As a result of this “life-changing experience,’’ she realised that she didn’t have enough knowledge of the Irish food industry to make her business work. “So I partnered with Paddy Callaghan, the owner of Nature’s Best food company in Drogheda which meant I was able to tap into his manufacturing and distribution experience.” Using the facilities at Nature’s Best Ms Hogan spent nine months developing a product range.
Production was outsourced to Nature’s Best — an option which allows the new company to scale quickly and inexpensively.
In 2015, Hiro participated in the SuperValu Food academy and its products went on sale in 12 Supervalu outlets.
“In January 2015 we went into 186 SuperValu stores — going nationwide was a huge milestone,” says Ms Hogan, who started selling to 150 Centra stores this month.
She has begun to explore export opportunities including the UK where the convenience food market is worth €3bn.
“We are now in advanced negotiations with a large multiple in the UK with a view to launching on the market there in 2018” she reveals.
Hiro has been funded by Ms Hogan’s personal savings and also from investment received from Mr Callaghan when he became a director in 2015. An additional €15,000 which Ms Hogan received for winning the best Start-up Business award in Louth in the IBYE competition, has also been invested.
The company is fundraising for a UK launch. ‘We aim to raise in excess of €500,000 and are in discussions with Enterprise Ireland and private investors,’’ she says.
Currently employing a staff of three, Hiro operates from an office in Drogheda close to the Nature’s Best facility.
It plans to move to a larger premises nearby.
“By the end of this year we expect to have a staff of six and expect to increase this to 19 by the end of 2019, says Ms Hogan who aims to develop sales across Europe.
By 2020 she thinks she will be ready to take on the US market.
Location: Drogheda, Co Louth
CEO: Roisin Hogan
Product: Ready meals
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