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Company sees the export potential of its product

Kinsale Gourmet managing director Owen O'Brien believes the products are unique enough to do well in the export market. 'The sea vegetables are a point of difference and we are the only ones making frozen seafood lasagne'.

Europeans have long come to Kinsale for gourmet food, but Kinsale Gourmet is now aiming to reverse this trend a little by exporting food products to Europe.

Capitalising on the town’s international culinary fame, the company has devised an innovative range of single-portion frozen meals containing sea vegetables.

Products which include seafood lasagne, seafood cannelloni, and seafood pie are now being sold in SuperValu, Spar, Tesco, and Dunnes Stores, as well as to an online seafood supplier in the UK. The company is about to commence selling to Ocado, the UK’s only dedicated online grocery supplier.

Kinsale Gourmet managing director Owen O’Brien says the company has come quite a distance since it was set up last year and is now in advanced negotiations with a French distribution company and is also about to start selling in Northern Ireland.

Shortlisted for this year’s National Enterprise Awards, Kinsale Gourmet now employs six full-time staff and six part-time.

The company is a sister company to Haven Bay Care Centre, a nursing home also operated by Mr O’Brien. Previously involved in the construction industry, he got out before the bust and set up the nursing home in 2007.

By 2011, Haven Bay was involved in devising healthy and nutritious meals for patients and also for a Meals and Wheels service in Kinsale. The company won catering awards and Mr O’Brien saw an opportunity to create a company to target the retail market with a range of high-quality products that were both nutritious and healthy.

A key decision was to opt for frozen. “Creating a product with a good shelf life takes out a lot of the risk,” says Mr O’Brien, who spent close to two years researching the market and investigating functional foods.

“We came across dilisk or dulse which is rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. This had been eaten by our grandparents’ generation but had been forgotten about.”

He said the company used a food consultant to ensure products were both healthy and tasted good.

Setting up operations at a 5,000sq ft premises at Barrack Lane in early 2012, the new company started production last summer last year making seafood pie and seafood lasagne.

Commencing with a staff of two, Haven Bay Care Food trading as Kinsale Gourmet began selling to local shops.

“We sold to the Super Valu and Eurospar in Kinsale and within a year we were selling to SuperValu and Spar nationwide, and also to Tesco and Dunnes in Dublin and Cork. In the next few months we will be going into Eurospar and Spar in Northern Ireland,’’ says Mr O’Brien.

Following a trade show this year, the company secured its first export order, which went to a seafood distribution company in the UK. For the last six months, the company has been in discussions with Ocado and expects to start sales within a few weeks.

Mr O’Brien says that when attending international food shows being a Kinsale company is always a huge benefit, because almost everybody is familiar with the town’s culinary reputation.

Now in discussions with distribution companies in both France and Germany, the company has ambitious plans for 2014. “We expect to have exports of 30% to the UK this year; our aim is to have exports of over 50% next year,’’ says Mr O’Brien. He plans to grow sales in Ireland and is targeting growth of 40%-45% in 2014.

If the increase in business continues, the company plans to increase its full-time staff to 10.

Kinsale Gourmet has been assisted by South Cork Enterprise Board and has received some grant aid. “We have been participating in an export programme which is helping us identify and develop new markets,’’ Mr O’Brien says.

Immediate plans now include the launch of a beef and porter product for the winter months which will bring the number of products to five.

While the company initially set out to target the over-55s, it has now discovered that its typical customer is over 30, health conscious, and looking for convenience. “We have found it is popular with single young professionals as well as empty nesters. It works well as a product for people to have in their freezer,’’ Mr O’Brien says.

He believes that Kinsale Gourmet products are unique enough to do well in the export market. “The sea vegetables are a point of difference and we are the only ones making frozen seafood lasagne. Our aim is to grow turnover to over €1m within a year or two.”


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