Christmas is traditionally a time of the year for adding spice to enhance food flavours and tickle the festive taste buds of consumers.
It is a particularly busy time for Spice O’Life, a research and new product development food company, based in Dunmanway, Co Cork, employng 40 people.
Every Christmas it produces an ever increasing range of seasonal products including a fresh cranberry sauce, Irish Whiskey apple ham glaze, and turkey stock gravy.
But the work of researching, developing and producing food and ingredient blends for the industrial food processing, craft butcher, catering and retail sectors is a year round process.
Incorporated in 2000, Spice O’Life, a 100% Irish owned company, now has a diverse range from dry spice blends, liquid products and syrups to soups, sauces, marinades, and dressings.
This allows it to provide customers with the right product, in the right form, at the right time and place, to meet the rapid changing needs of today’s consumer.
The company produces both private label and own brand for sale into the Irish and Northern Ireland retail and butchers market.
The company, a member of Origin Green the national food sustainability programme operated by Bord Bia, also supplies the retail market with a range of fresh and ambient sauces.
Tom Kearney, the company’s founder, travelled the exotic historical spice routes of the East before coming home and setting up the company with business partner Denis O’Driscoll.
Although West Cork may not come to mind when thinking about spices, the successful duo’s Dunmanway base is today one of the most successful independent custom blending spice houses in Ireland.
Kearney — who brings an indepth background in food science and technology from UCC — harboured ambitions of being a scientist from his childhood days.
After completing his degree in UCC he worked for number of years with Kerry Group before moving to Boston. It was here that he honed his skills in spice blending with a company but it was bought out by a large multinational and he was made redundant.
He took this opportunity to retrace the steps of the historical spice route, which involved him travelling across much of south-east Asia.
After his travels, he returned to Ireland with the idea of starting his own spice company. When he was turned down for funding he returned to the United States.
He spent the next two years building timber frame houses in San Francisco for West Cork Construction, a company owned by two school friends, Pat Coakley and Paul O’ Driscoll, also from Dunmanway.
He returned home in 1999 to set up a licensed laboratory and with the help of the West Cork Enterprise Board, the Spice O’ Life story began to grow.
In less than three years, Kearney was developing spice blends for major catering clients and had also bought and kitted out a premises that had the ability to produce both powder and liquid blends.
“The thing we enjoy most about our work is developing products and flavours. We are also immensely proud of the fact that we have been able to grow what began as a little business in West Cork to one that now employs 40 people,” he said.
Mr Kearney said they had been looking at entering the British market, but have put this plan on hold until they see the currency situation post Brexit.
“For now we are concentrating on growing the business at home and we see lots of opportunities for growth here.
“ In order to continue growing in Ireland we simply must continue developing and producing high quality products for all their customers. The Love Irish Food Brand is a key strand in our day-to-day marketing and we carry their logo on all our products.
“The message that is delivered by the Love Irish Foods brand is that the consumer is buying a quality Irish-made product. This is a vital message in a very competitive marketplace. It is through this message that jobs are kept at home and local economies and communities remain vibrant,” he said.
Denis O’Driscoll, who has over 30 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical and food industries, said the company has a fully approved new product development laboratory, staffed by nutrionists and food scientists in West Cork that meets all their needs.
“We also have the capability to produce own branded products for our customers in a wide variety of forms. Spice O’Life products are manufactured by experienced and highly trained professionals who operate to the stringent BRC quality standard. We have been awarded this standard for the last five years attaining a Grade A each time,” he said.
“We offer our customers portion control packaging which assures a consistent pack size, uniform flavour and a quality product each and every time.
“Spice O’ Life has a diverse manufacturing capability ranging from dry seasoning blends to liquid sauces, marinades and dressings to ready-to-use finished prepared consumer foods,” he said.
Mr O’Driscoll said one of the company’s strengths is its capability to turn projects around from development to production in very quick order in its new laboratory.
“This guarantees our customer a distinct competitive advantage over their competitors, in that they are first on the market with new products. Our aim is to consistently exceed our customers expectations in the development and manufacture of prepared consumer food ingredients, blends of ingredients and finished products,” he said.
The company says it is also constantly developing and improving energy recovery systems within its production and storage facilities and endeavouring where possible to source and buy ingredients and packaging from sustainable sources.
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