Family-run health food company, Good4U is on a mission to enable people of all ages to live a healthier life. Maev Martin talks to managing director Karol Butler about the company’s expanding product range and future plan.
Good4U was established in Cookstown, Co Tyrone in 2004, but now operates from Sligo where the company currently employs 28 people in its facility in Finisklin Business Park.
“We are from Sligo, it is home, and it is a most beautiful place,” says Karol. “We all love it here, and although it isn’t a traditional stronghold for food manufacturing and has presented us with some challenges, we have overcome those challenges to date.
We are very passionate about what we do, we are confident in our product range and in our new product pipeline and, together with our great team, we have backed ourselves to compete on a global stage.”
Super Sprouts, a mix of fresh broccoli, clover, radish and alfalfa sprouted seeds, was the first product developed by the company and Karol describes it as “the genesis and backbone” of the business.
“The inherent health properties of sprouted seed were further evidenced by published research carried out by the University of Ulster on our Super Sprout mix,” he says.
“The research established the role that Good4U Super Sprouts play in reducing DNA damage in the body. Essentially, sprouted seeds are baby plants grown naturally with just heat, light and water.
"What is really special about them is their antioxidant and plant compound profile, as they are only three days old and therefore have a concentrated source of nutrients that can play a significant role in reducing disease risk. The research on sprouted seeds is staggering.
"Almost 20 years on, they are still considered quite a niche product, so creating awareness has been our biggest challenge. They are so versatile – they can be eaten straight from the pack or added to boost any meal. We are market leaders in the UK and Ireland, and we have some exciting developments coming down the track.”
Playing in multiple categories
Good4U’s snacks and toppers include energy balls, protein balls, super seed snacks, savoury roasted pulse snacks, salad toppers, breakfast boosts and Kids Nutri Balls.
“Our product portfolio spans multiple categories, which gives us some degree of flexibility,” says Karol.
“Our aim is to provide a meal solution throughout the day. We make foods that can be incorporated into most meals and a snack for in between meals. Ultimately, we are all about making functional nutritious foods more accessible and affordable but, most importantly, making it easier to have a balanced diet from AM to PM. Products such as ours are becoming more mainstream, with major retailers dedicating increased shelf space to healthier snacking and added value salad and breakfast products.
“A 2020/2021 report by the NHS in the UK found that obesity prevalence among four- and five-year olds rose from 9.9% in 2019/2020 to 14.4% in 2020/2021. When it comes to ten- and 11-year olds, this increases to 25.5% obesity. In Britain, HFSS (high fats, sugar and salt) is a major government initiative that restricts retailers from promoting products with high fats, salts and sugars.
"This legislation was designed to help curtail rapidly increasing obesity rates across the UK. This is a very positive movement that will hopefully encourage healthier lifestyle changes. It is surely only a matter of time before initiatives such as this are implemented in Ireland. It is moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done to make the choice easier by reducing or removing VAT on healthy alternatives that meet the strictest of criteria.”
Top sellers & distribution
Making healthy eating accessible for everyone is top of the Good4U agenda, as an increasing cohort of consumers are keen to build physical and mental resilience.
“After two years of unpredictability due to the pandemic, people are craving control in their lives where they can, and one place they can get it is through the world of food and drink,” says Karol.
“From gut health to immunity, people are looking at food as a way to boost their wellbeing, particularly with products that have added benefits, and that is where Good4U can provide help and solutions.”
According to Karol, Good4U’s Salad Topper Super Seeds is their top selling product. A savoury roasted mix of seeds and green pea, it has acquired a very loyal and growing customer base. Their Kids Nutri Balls have also been performing well, with strong year on year growth in Ocado, which he describes as “a great shop window for the UK market,” and in Tesco Ireland.
“In Ireland, all our products are available in Tesco nationwide, and some of our lines are available in SuperValu nationwide,” he says.
“We recently launched a new and exciting snack range and joined forces with a reputable distribution company who have exciting plans and a clear strategy to grow the Irish market over the next 12 months and beyond.”
“When Brexit happened, our export plans were fast-tracked, and we targeted key western European markets that were aligned to the Irish and UK consumer,” he says.
“The last two years have proven to be very challenging, especially with Covid-19, but despite this, our products can now be found on the shelves of some of the biggest retailers in France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.”
New product development
Good4U currently boasts no less than 27 products in its retail portfolio.
“The main characteristics of our products are 100% natural, functional with added health benefits, no added sugar, nut-free, gluten-free and, of course, tasty,” says Karol.
“We have had many opportunities over the years to consider nuts and other ingredients, but we remained true to our promise and we are now reaping the rewards. We have just launched our third Kids Nutri Ball (great little balls of milled fruit and seed with some functional ingredients all nicely disguised as a treat ... an absolute must for any lunchbox).
"We also completed our launch of the super snacks with the multi-pack range, and at the start of September we launched our new indulgent protein balls. We are launching extensions of each of the ranges in early 2023 and we have some really exciting NPD plans that we have been working on for the last 24 months, which will see the Good4U brand expand into a new category. That is all I can say for now! The NPD crew have been very busy.”
Healthy eating market
The health food/functional drinks market in Ireland is becoming very crowded, which is good for the consumer, but must be quite challenging for suppliers in this space. What makes Good4U stand out from other players?
“It is a challenging space, but it is also growing rapidly,” he says.
“60% of consumers worldwide are proactively looking for products that improve their health. I view the success of other brands in this space as a positive for all brands operating in the healthy eating market, as it drives more and more consumers to embrace healthier snacking. There is room for growth, especially for products that are naturally healthy. As this space becomes more and more popular and competitive, the consumer will become more aware of clean labelling and naturally healthy foods.
“Our products will stand up to any test. They have no added sugars, are nut-free, and are made from 100% raw natural ingredients, including our proteins, so the consumer knows what they are getting when they buy a Good4U product. We believe that continuing to win the trust and loyalty of our customers by providing them with the best quality and innovative products that meet their needs will hopefully sustain us into the future.”
The health and wellness food and drink sectors were worth €2.6 billion in 2021, up from €2.1 billion in 2016.
“Category average growth for the last five years varies within the sector itself, with CAGR for functional and better-for-you products of approximately 4%, while the free-from category has experienced CAGR for the same period of approximately 11%,” says Karol.
“Functional products have been performing particularly well during and since the pandemic. This category experienced 6% growth in 2020 and 2021, and Good4U sits nicely in all three. We have had a couple of very good years, with growth of 35% year on year this year alone.
"The feedback on our recently launched snacking range has been great, and the launch sales have been very strong, so we are aiming to replicate this like for like growth in 2023, which will be supported by expanding our customer base and increased visibility on shelf.”
Looking to the remainder of this year and into 2023, the focus for Good4U is to get their home market on track.
“Our distributor will be instrumental in delivering this, supported by a major marketing campaign,” he says.
“Extending the reach and appeal of Good4U in homes throughout Ireland and becoming a household name is our biggest ambition for the Irish market. Good4U is a brand with global appeal, but for us, as a family-owned Irish company, we want our story to be heard at home as this is where the heart is. We had two major launches into Jumbo in the Netherlands and in Auchan in France.
“Winning new business during the pandemic was a real challenge but, despite the negativity of these challenging times. There is still opportunity and we have had some very positive meetings in the past few months We have been focusing on B2B and foodservice, and we are making good progress on growing our customer base beyond the retail sector in the UK.”
Given the challenges that Irish businesses have faced in recent years, with Brexit, Covid-19, the energy crisis and the consequent increase in costs across every aspect of a business owner's inputs, staying competitive has never been more difficult for food and drink businesses.
“We are very lean, but there is always room to be leaner and this is a big focus for us at the moment,” says Karol.
“There are supports available to companies to help facilitate lean manufacturing. Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia have been a great support to us.”
Managing costs is a daily challenge for businesses, with cost increases coming from every direction. “Good relationships with buyers, suppliers and service providers have never been more important,” he says.
"Here in Good4U we have a great team who share the vision and we work together to get the formula right in every department. For the last 12 months there has been very little flexibility for businesses, as we scramble to ensure that we have supply above all else and, in some instances, at great cost," he adds.
"It still hasn’t settled down, but most of the key items are more secure now. Now is a good time to revisit all costs and try and lock in some certainty, where possible. Reassess profitability by product/customer and, needless to say, having up to date cashflows and management accounts is essential.
"We are better at saying no to some contracts now – everyone is extremely busy, so it is really important that we spend our time wisely and focus more on key customers,” he concludes.
Love Irish Food
Good4U was in the Love Irish Food marquee at Bloom this year, the first Bloom since 2018. “It was a fantastic show and the feedback that we received was phenomenal,” he says.
“We underestimated the demand most days, so there were a few spins up and down from Sligo! Because over 80% of our business is in the UK, the brand exposure with Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco and Ocado has definitely increased consumer awareness of the Good4U brand and garnered loyalty over the years. Our brand is better known in the UK than here in Ireland, so attending Bloom was one step in trying to address this.
"Making the Irish consumer aware that we are a premium producer and that we are local is vitally important to us. The team in Love Irish Food have their finger on the pulse. At a time when so much is happening, it is really important to have people who are aware of all the changes that are happening every week.
"Regular emails notifying us of regulation changes, as well as marketing opportunities with major retailers, have been a great help. The shop local message is very important. As a business and a family, we are acutely aware of the importance of supporting local and, as we face into some very challenging times ahead, we need to commit to this principle when and wherever we can.”
Would he recommend membership of Love Irish Food to a new business supplying into the grocery retail sector?
“Yes, I would recommend it because Love Irish Food represents a family of Irish producers and businesses in a positive and meaningful way, by sharing our stories and encouraging networking across the food sector," he says.
"A recent report by the Red Tractor food chain assurance scheme, and their Trust in Food Index, noted an 8% reduction in trust in food originating from the UK, down from 81% to 73%, whereas trust in Irish food in Britain had increased to being the most trusted food source, at 74%," he adds.
"Collectively, Irish brands represent food produce at its best on a global stage, so it is really important that we sell that message domestically, as well as abroad. The Love Irish Food organisation is key for Good4U in delivering that message.”