Kevin Markham looks at four young food companies with a sweet spot for golf.
It is hard to look back on our recent recession with much fondness but it did shine a light on our entrepreneurial spirit. Despite the harshest of times, many people took the plunge to set up their own business. In
particular, the growth of Irish food and drink companies has exploded as entrepreneurs identify and target specific niches, both in Ireland and abroad. One of the benchmarks is Vit-Hit, the Irish healthy drinks company, started by Gary Lavin in 1999. Today, the company sells over 17 million bottles per year and exports to eight countries. Not surprisingly, you’ll find Vit-Hit in most golf club pro shops.
It is these new entrepreneurs who are the focus here, because we are seeing their products in ever greater numbers in Irish golf club pro shops and online. It should be noted, however, that one of the following four companies only sells online… but there are reasons for that.
Wyldsson (wyldsson.com, established 2012)
Dave McGeady set up Wyldsson after being made redundant by a medical technology company. At the age of 31, he knew it was now or never to achieve his ambition to establish his own company. Following a health scare, he realised there simply weren’t enough products free of junk ingredients.
The new mixes in the tubes look great! pic.twitter.com/7PA2xgOS8A— Jude O'Reilly (@JudeOReilly) November 17, 2017
“The world has changed,” says Dave. “Just look at the success of Operation Transformation. One of the biggest things that they emphasise people to do is to cut out highly processed supermarket foods which are often high in sugar as well as things like colourings and preservatives. So I saw a huge opportunity to produce genuinely healthy food products which taste great, because there’s a huge number of people actually looking for them.”
Dave took a very direct approach, selling online (although there was an early foray of selling in golf pro shops) so that he could cut out the middlemen and keep costs to a minimum. It also gave him added freedom to source ingredients from across the globe. Persian mulberries are not your everyday ingredient. The company’s first product was the snack tube of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, which was launched in autumn 2013. Today, the company sells 50 products. Dave employs six people and all of the products are made in a dedicated production facility in Tallaght.
Golf played a key role in Wyldsson’s early development and continues to do so: “When we started off, we focused on pro golfers because lots of them already eat nuts and dried fruit when they play. The problem for them is that they were eating them out of little bags, which are messy and leave them with sticky fingers. So we wanted to make something they would actually use.”
Irish Biltong (irishbiltong.ie, established 2015)
Irish Biltong made quite the statement when the company appeared on Dragons Den in April 2017. The company received two offers of €100,000 and proceeded to turn both of them down. This was a company doing very nicely, thank you very much, and was well aware of its worth.
Started in Naas by Noreen and John Doyle, the company has made significant strides in the high protein and healthy snack food market. Biltong originated in South Africa, where the conditions were perfect for air drying beef. Irish Biltong has imported specialised cabinets to mimic these conditions.
“Working in the food sector for the past 14 years, I saw a gap in the health food sector,” says Noreen of the company’s genesis. “We developed this high protein beef snack range designed primarily for the sports nutrition market.
“There was an obvious gap in the market that we could test and develop through my husband’s expertise in the beef industry, our access to top quality beef from our own farm and owning our own meat plant.”
In September 2015, Irish Biltong’s two products (Plain and Mild Chilli) appeared in SuperValu, via the retailers’ Food Academy programme.
By early 2016, the company had become a sponsor to Connacht Rugby, and it has also reached elite professional golfers such as Paul Dunne, Shane Lowry, and Andy Sullivan. Irish Biltong also partnered with Chubby Chandler’s ISM sports management company in the UK, with the aim of gaining exposure to more top golfers.
The products are available in a number of pro shops across the country but Naas Golf Club was the first to sell Irish Biltong’s two varieties.
“Our aim is to become one of the main go-to snacks for golfers,” Noreen explains. “It’s a healthy choice which sustains energy levels on the golf course.”
Fulfil Nutrition (fulfilnutrition.com, established 2014)
Fulfil Nutrition was formed when two friends, Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon, decided that the world deserved a tastier protein bar. Both worked for Richmond Marketing, a brand-building company in Dublin, so they knew what steps were needed to achieve success. Their first four protein bars arrived in January 2016. They certainly made for tasty combinations: Peanut & Caramel, Cookies & Cream, Strawberry & Vanilla, and Coconut & Chocolate. Of their 11 varieties available, Peanut & Caramel is the best seller.
Fulfil employs 16 people in Dublin 12, and distributes nationwide to retailers, gyms, pharmacies and even Primark. One of the company’s target groups is the ‘sports enthusiast’ and most golfers will be well aware of Fulfil bars as they are stocked in over 400 golf clubs. The Island Golf Club, however, was the first to stock the products.
Golfers are one audience but, overall, the company’s target market is 20-34 year olds who live a busy lifestyle and like to keep fit and healthy. As such, Fulfil has spread its wings with its core markets now identified as Ireland, the UK, the Middle East, USA, and Australia. Distribution contracts have been agreed or are pending in 20 key markets and, in 2016, Fulfil’s first trading year, 15 million bars were sold.
Social media has played an interesting role in the brand’s development and, unquestionably, shows the power, reach and importance of such channels in a company’s growth. Fulfil noticed a trend on Instagram of people using Fulfil bars in different ways, e.g. in smoothies, desserts, pancakes etc., and this sparked the idea to open Fulfil Café (in Griffin’s Londis, in Dublin) to serve high protein, low sugar Fulfil crepes, smoothies, and froyo.
Bella Bites (boostbites.com, established 2014)
Last on the list and the most recent to be attracted to the golf market is Bella Bites.
“The Proteeny pack is my dad’s favourite for his golf bag,” says Cliona Hegarty, the founder of Bella Bites. “It’s loaded with fibre, so it fuels his game and the handy resealable bag makes it easy for eating on the course.” This may have directed Cliona’s foray into golf but when you consider that the first golf club to stock Bella Bites is the K Club, you’ll realise there’s a bright future for her products among golfers.
Bella Bites is based in Dublin 7, and came about following the closure of the primary school where Cliona worked.
“I cleaned up what I was eating and began to eat real, nourishing foods,” Cliona says, following the closure. “I was amazed at how good I began to feel. I noticed a huge impact on my energy levels, my mood and my overall wellness. I was frustrated with the snacks available when eating on-the-go and so, having grown up baking with Mum, I decided to make my own snacks and treats. I realised I had created something very special when friends tasted my snacks and began asking me to make batches.”
It was customers’ feedback at farmers’ markets that gave Cliona the confidence to go further. In March 2015, she started a trial at 12 retail stores. Since then she has expanded steadily and Bella Bites are now available in over 300 stores nationwide, including Dunnes Stores, Tesco Express, Avoca, Topaz, and Spar.
Cliona’s three products are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, raw and handmade (in Ireland). The three varieties are Proteeny Bella (fruit & nut), Coco Bella (crispy coconut), and Chocco Bella (coconut and cacao). Her first product was Coco Bella, which remains her best seller.
Cliona admits that she hadn’t really focused on the golf market but when customers told her they carry Bella Bites because they are a super fit for keeping energised she started targeting a new audience. There will be sampling events in golf clubs over the coming few months.
This story was edited on May 11, 2018.
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