We are delighted to kick off our Meet the Makers series for 2023, which is brought to our readers in conjunction with Love Irish Food. This month, Maev Martin profiles three Love Irish Food members – Absolute Nutrition, Jump Juice, and Niks Tea – who have successfully responded to the consumer demand for healthy food and drink options.
Absolute Nutrition director Jo Davey founded the company in 2014. At that time, she had four small children under the age of six and was working full-time as a medical secretary in the National Forensic Service.
“I brought food and snacks with me everywhere I went, but I was also time poor and didn't bake much,” she says.
“I started making raw balls and snacks because we all loved them, and they are quick and convenient.
"I was pretty good at creating flavours and I also found that I could add a multitude of healthier ingredients, while still ending up with delicious- tasting snacks.
"This is exactly what I needed because I had to take care of myself, as I was suffering from exhaustion, and it paved a way for my children, who are all now older, to understand and enjoy the benefits of healthier snacking.”
Jo decided to gift some of her protein and energy balls to friends who attended a local gym.
“Everyone seemed to be time poor and a lot of people don't like to buy expensive ingredients and end up with something that doesn't look or taste good, so within a few months the gym had asked me to supply their new café,” she says.
“At the same time, I was offered a place on the Food Academy Programme, which I accepted because my ultimate goal at that point was to be able to supply high quality, functional and convenient snacks to the retail industry in Ireland.
"There wasn't much choice or many options back then and I saw a gap for a really good Irish snack brand.
"Being passionate about nutrition, I wanted to change the way people snack and, fast forward eight years, there are very few retail stores, cafés or corporates that don't have healthier snack options available.”
“We launched a very successful Christmas range for 2022, which includes our Raw'ffaello Bliss Ball, Christmas Pudding Bliss Balls and a rich Chocolate Orange Bliss Ball, into Avoca, Fresh The Good Food Market, and select cafés,” says Jo.
“And for 2023, we plan to launch our Peanut Butter Rawlo and our nut-free pouch range, which is ideal for school lunches.”
Funds for investment can be a major challenge for smaller producers, but the Absolute Nutrition business has grown steadily year on year.
“We have been quite successful in managing our own funds and I think it is important to not bite off more than you can chew,” she says. “We have also availed of funding and supports along the way from our Local Enterprise Office in south Dublin.”
Marketing and Sustainability
In the beginning, Absolute Nutrition was marketed on social media and through word of mouth.
This progressed to a weekly market, increased social media presence, and then marketing support from the Food Academy Programme.
“Our current marketing strategy is still a low-budget one, consisting of updates and interactions on our various social media pages, collaborations with customers and suppliers, and through absolutenutrition.ie,” says Jo.
“We also have branded vehicles delivering across the country.”
Not only is Absolute Nutrition's philosophy one of minimal processing and nutrition, Jo says that it is also about taking care of our planet and reducing, re-using and recycling.
“All of Absolute Nutrition's packaging is fully recyclable or reusable and we boast a zero-food waste policy in our bakery,” she says. “All our ingredients are sourced through ethical and sustainable Irish suppliers.”
What impact will continuing inflation and global uncertainty have on the business in 2023? “Challenges are par for the course in any business, but continuing inflation is a sharp sting to everyone,” says Jo.
“We have had multiple increases in price from all suppliers and our costs have increased dramatically.
"While we endeavour to work around these hikes and run our business, there is a limit for everyone.
"We have come out the other side of a very challenging three years and I am confident that we will continue to produce our food for as long as we have a market and ingredients.
"What happens globally is anyone's guess at this stage, but when times are particularly challenging there is a great network and sense of support between us and our fellow food producers. We all face the same challenges together.”
Jo has high hopes for the further development of her business this year.
“Absolute Nutrition is a highly exportable business, and we look forward to focusing on our export plans in 2023,” she says.
“We also have a lot more ground to cover in the domestic market and we are pleased to add another van and staff member to our team this year.
"My ultimate ambition is for Absolute Nutrition to be a household brand name, both here and abroad.
"Food is evolving, dietary habits are evolving, and nutritious convenient snack food is a way of life rather than a 'trend'.
"With a range of flavours, we have something for everyone, and we look forward to changing the way people snack by encouraging them to choose healthier options over highly processed, and sugar-laden alternatives.”
Time for Niks Tea
Niks Tea CEO Nicola Kearns established the business in 2012, blending and pre-packing loose teas and herbal infusions for farmers markets and food events.
In 2013, the first Niks Tea-branded loose teas launched into retail stores, and the company now supplies over 500 customers nationwide in the retail and food service sectors, including health stores, fine food stores, and supermarkets.
“I always wanted to set up my own business in an area that I was passionate about and I was at a crossroads in my life, so the time felt right to take the chance and go for it,” she says.
“Niks Tea aims to create organic herbal teas that are healthy and full of flavours for experienced tea enthusiasts.”
Over the past decade, the business has evolved from setting up and selling loose teas at farmers markets, to now running a full production and packaging teabag and loose tea facility.
Niks Tea originally supplied to the retail sector only, but the business has diversified into hospitality, gifting and, most recently, private label.
Funds for investment can be a major challenge for smaller producers, but that hasn’t been the case for Niks Tea.
“Organic growth has enabled the company to buy the Niks Tea HQ in Greenogue Business Park in Rathcoole and to finance our manufacturing plant,” says Nicola. “Banks have been very supportive, and the Local Enterprise Expansion Grant was another welcome support.”
Shoppers have become a bit more adventurous in their tea drinking habits in recent years, particularly during the pandemic.
“Over last ten years, the growth of customers’ awareness of speciality tea drinking and wellness herbal teas has been monumental,” says Nicola.
“It is a diverse category, ranging from sleep remedies to Irish-themed teas to pure enjoyment. Thankfully, Niks Tea offers tea ranges across this spectrum, and that is reflected in our customer base, which includes Tesco, Fallon & Byrne, The Health Store, and Irish tourist locations such as the Cliffs of Moher.”
Striving for Sustainability
Niks Tea is committed to an ecological production process and packaging plan.
“We strive to create a memorable and enjoyable tea experience that is affordable and convenient for customers to source and prepare,” says Nicola.
“As members of Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme, and a Gold Member company, we delivered an exemplary performance within our target areas of raw materials certification packaging, and energy throughout 2021,” she says.
“Within the energy target area, Niks Tea has reduced usage per kg of output by 16.6% from a 2020 baseline, already more than 6.5 percentage points ahead of the original target set.
"Implementing energy saving measures and creating an energy efficient environment within the workplace will ensure that Niks Tea is striving to reduce its overall emissions, an important message which runs through our everyday business practices.
"Over the course of 2023, we will begin to explore the potential to install solar panels at our site to further drive energy self-sufficiency.”
Made in Ireland
2022 was a year of change and preparation for growth, and Nicola is proud of what Niks Tea has achieved, including reaching targets on its sustainability journey, the commencement of in-house production for its entire product range, and the diversification of that range.
“We have just launched distribution in Spain, and we hope to create further export opportunities this year,” she says.
2022 also saw the growth of Niks Tea’s wellness herbal range in pharmacies and in the dedicated wellness areas in supermarkets.
Sustainable tourism is another big area for the company, where they are aligning with companies that have made sustainability a top priority.
“Made in Ireland is a powerful marketing and unique tool for our brand at home and abroad, so we will focus on companies who are genuinely supporting Irish businesses,” she says.
“My ultimate ambition for the Niks Tea Brand is to penetrate the retail market in Ireland and be the priority Irish choice for speciality tea in the category.
"I would also like to develop the private label side of the business and continue to expand our export markets. We have a very niche business model, employing local people and supporting communities, which I’d like to maintain.”
In order to prepare themselves for what is likely to be a difficult business environment in 2023, Nicola says they will strive continuously to be competitively priced.
“Also, not outsourcing production means we are a reliable supplier, so during the pandemic and Brexit periods, and at other uncertain times, we aren’t as dependent on third parties,” she says.
“We have built up good relationships with tea suppliers over the last ten years, although more recently, we have had to negotiate with new tea brokers to maintain our competitive pricing.”
Jump Juice On The Up
Jump Juice was co-founded by managing director Charlie Scanlan and his wife Claire in 2002.
They decided to establish a juice bar when they were working in Dublin and found it increasingly difficult to find healthy, ready-to-go food and drink options when they were out and about.
“We did some research, brought our findings together, and identified juices and smoothies as the place to start,” says Charlie.
“We opened our first juice bar in Waterford city centre in 2003, and we knew within weeks that we had responded to a need that wasn’t just our own.
"In November 2020, we launched our range of bottled juices and smoothies. Juiced in Ireland and cold pressed to maintain its nutritional integrity and clean authentic taste, this vibrant range allows us to reach more of our fans, wherever they live or work.”
When they were launching their cold pressed product on the market back in 2020, the couple started with a range of their signature smoothies (Mango, Strawberry & Berry), juices (Orange Juice, Green Juice, Citrus Twist, Fruity Juice) and wellness shots (Orange & Turmeric, Beetroot & Ginger, Apple & Charcoal).
“Our Mango and Berry smoothie has since achieved Blas Na hEireann silver and bronze awards,” says Charlie.
“With fortification in mind, we are looking at refreshing and expanding our range and we plan to introduce some new products just before the summer period in 2023.
"Consumers are continually looking for convenient ways to maximise their vitamin and mineral intake. Juices and smoothies work extremely well as a great tasting carrier for such fortification.”
Plant-Based And Planet-Friendly
There has been a renewed focus on health and wellness in the post-pandemic period. This, coupled with the plant-based nature of the Jump Juice portfolio of products, has generated strong interest in juices and smoothies as a means to deliver a nutritionally dense, plant-based option, either on-the-go or at home.
Charlie says that sustainability has always been top-of-mind for the company and is reinforced by their decision to produce locally, minimising shipping miles of the final product, and enabling Jump Juice to source local ingredients, where possible.
“Our bottled range undergoes the cold pressed high-pressure process, which gives them a shelf life of 45 to 50 days,” he says.
“This process helps minimise waste, a key sustainability target, through an extended shelf life without the use of preservatives or pasteurisation, and it helps to maintain the nutrients in our fresh product.
"This is complemented by a packaging solution that is 100% recyclable.”
The Business Opportunity
Charlie says that 2022 was a challenging year for the business, with ingredient cost inflation and availability issues, but he is happy that Jump Juice was able to maintain supply and prices during the year.
“As global uncertainty continues into 2023 and growth normalises, we believe that having an Irish production base is a strong advantage, as it enables us to react quickly and positively,” he says.
“Jump Juice will be 20 years young this year. We have a large and loyal customer following who have grown up with us, recognise and trust our brand, and understand the quality of our made-to-order juice bar products.
“In 2023, we are looking to take advantage of that loyal customer following and establish a similar following in the retail arena, with our cold pressed juice and smoothie range.
"Being the market leading juice bar brand in Ireland, we will continue to grow our base of juice bars.
"We plan to complement that by, initially, being a key player competing in the cold pressed bottled juice and smoothie category, and then we will develop our offering across a number of other complementary health and wellness-focused retail and convenience categories.
"We have known for some time that many of our fans can’t reach our juice bars every day, so we are energised by the challenge of bringing our brand closer to wherever our customers live and work."
© 2023 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Maev Martin. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.