TV presenter Emma Buckley teamed up with her brother Robert in 2014 to disrupt the way Irish people manage their healthy eating habits. Pádraig Hoare talks to Mr Buckley about combining IT and healthy eating.
At first glance, placing a spreadsheet alongside the traditional chef essentials seems odd — but siblings Emma and Robert Buckley insisted from day one that their highly-trained chefs be as comfortable with numbers as they were with fresh ingredients.
Best known as a TV presenter in Ireland with RTÉ and TV3, as well as PBS, CBS and HBO in the US, Ms Buckley combined her nutritionist background with the operational and business background of her brother in 2014 to create Gourmet Fuel.
The vision was to create healthy meals, using fresh ingredients prepared by fully-trained chefs, to be distributed throughout Ireland via their Gourmet Fuel website.
What made Gourmet Fuel a pioneer in the field when it launched in January 2015 was that every meal is not just calorie-controlled, it also places an emphasis on the macro-nutritional breakdown.
That means the essential food groups of protein, carbohydrates and fats are tailor-made for each meal, while there is also an emphasis on the micro-nutritional profile, which relates to vitamin and mineral content. It is designed so customers know exactly what they are eating, not just from a nutritional but also calorific standpoint.
Mr Buckley said it was crucial that users could track every morsel of food going into their body to suit individual goals, and also have the guesswork taken out, and finally to have the perfect meal for that goal delivered to their door.
“We make food by design first, on a spreadsheet. When we started the business, we looked for a chef and it was quite a process. Every chef that we come across goes with their flair. But everything we do is by design. You can keep achieving the right amount of food to consume but have a whole range of options. Our chef had to design food on a spreadsheet first,” Mr Buckley said.
Mr Buckley said Gourmet Fuel had to be different to all others to differentiate itself from other businesses in the food sector. It uses 425 ingredients at present, overseen by Ms Buckley and her team of nutritionists. The food is prepared by hand, quickly cooled and sealed, with every morsel calculated. The firm does not prepare food that has not been ordered by a customer, thereby eliminating waste.
“We were definitely pioneering this at the beginning of 2014. We said, okay, who can we measure or compare ourselves to, who can we style our business on? There really wasn’t anyone. My sister is a really good nutritionist so we looked at what a person really requires. It all ends up being a number.
“Each ingredient we know by the gram, what the macro and micronutrient breakdown is, how much salt and fibre. We are just as focused on the micro-nutrition as the macro breakdown.
“Obviously there are health factors and understanding of the human body, what it needs and how to measure food and give it to people in a way that they can enjoy and doesn’t feel like a diet,” he added.
Beginning with a handful of clients in January 2015, the company has seen 5% growth month-on-month, and is now eyeing possible franchising abroad, Mr Buckley said.
“We built and invested in a food production facility that is capable of serving Ireland from the one location, and could possibly serve part of the UK also. We’re not even at 20% of what we could produce. What we see is good retention of customers. We have some who purchase every week, people who say they are not only saving on time and effort of preparing meals themselves, but also on money,” he said.
Competing in a massive industry means long hours but Mr Buckley said he and his sister are convinced it is the future in a health-enlightened age. Online business will remain the essential component of Gourmet Fuel, he said.
“Myself and my sister grew up like Irish twins. I have more of an operational background to her nutrition, and we combine very well. It’s been a long few years, anywhere between 80 to 90 hours a week. But we see great value in the brand and it has a lot of different applications. Our business is online, it is the convenience of customers picking up their laptop or tablet and picking their meals, or we help them do so. Online will always be the focus.
“There is a good opportunity for our business to be franchised in other countries. It’s very easy to activate our website worldwide. We’ve also got export opportunities. We’ve got the ability to supply into the UK, all depending on how Brexit works out. But our brand is as dear to us as our own names, and the culture we have created around how our food is prepared is paramount. That is why we believe we are different and why the gourmetfuel.com model is a successful one,” he said.
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