Food for thought: How small businesses are getting the better of Covid-19

Those in the food and drink industry speak to journalist Clodagh Dooley about how they’ve adapted to the crisis and their future goals

“All food and drink start-up businesses have no doubt been impacted in some way because of the pandemic,” says Louis Eivers, Development Advisor of ‘High Potential Food and Drink Start-ups’ at Enterprise Ireland. “But what has been astounding is the fact that a lot of these entrepreneurs, particularly those on our Food Works Programme, have kept a positive attitude throughout these challenging times. They’ve even managed to grow from the crisis.”

Food Works – run by Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc – is Ireland’s only dedicated accelerator for food and drink businesses. Each of the three agencies involved with Food Works plays a specific role in taking Irish food to global markets. Enterprise Ireland supports business funding development and this year, offered up to €35,000 in funding for participating food and drink companies. Bord Bia helps with the consumer and market aspects, while Teagasc focuses on the technical side, product development and manufacturing.

The programme brings each of these agencies’ complementary skills together in the one place, as well as providing business advisors of varying expertise, to help companies with their start-up goals.

“It’s a one-stop-shop for start-up food and drink companies,” says Louis. “We typically take on 6-10 companies each year, so it can be competitive to get on the programme. We look for those early-stage companies, that are less than five years old and require support, keeping HPSU (High Potential Start-Up) criteria in mind.”


Adapting virtually

And high potential is definitely what this year’s participant companies have shown since the 2020 programme launched in March – despite the disruption of coronavirus.

Craig Grattan, founder of Sweet Potato Pizza Company, says the pandemic has actually been beneficial for his product – a healthier, but equally as tasty, pizza that has a sweet potato base. “March saw a 42% jump in sales from February. In a situation where a lot of companies will unfortunately not see the light of day again, it’s been incredible to see this increase in sales.

“The Food Works Programme definitely has a part to play in that too, as the level of work we have done already over three months has been brilliant. In previous years, mentoring sessions would have been done face-to-face, now it’s all online so we have access to our business advisors instantly.” says Grattan

Louis Eivers of Enterprise Ireland, says that, despite being initially sceptical about moving the programme solely online, companies are, in fact, getting more support than ever. “Now, advisors that would usually travel to Ireland from the likes of the UK or Germany, are able to dedicate more time to the entrepreneurs online.”


Venturing forward

Sinéad Crowther, Founder and CEO of Soothing Solutions – unique products which offer all of the benefits a hard-throat lozenge would give, but without the choking hazard – says without Food Works, her company would have made “little to no progress”.

“Everything in food development for start-ups simply shut down. Food Works has been our lifeline. The programme has opened doors for us and we have been able to scale up our manufacturing capacity with a team of experts that we could not have afforded to pay, had we been approaching them without the programme.” says Crowther

Sinéad’s goals for the future are to have the company’s products rolled out across Ireland in the next 12 months and look to start exporting to their identified channels the following year.

Craig says his business goal is to also expand. He wants his Sweet Potato Pizza, which is currently available in 43 stores including SuperValu, to be available nationwide, in Europe and in America. “Whatever your business goals are, the different levels of ambition are met by the levels of expertise from advisers,” he says of the Food Works Programme.

Sinéad says that Food Works will play a huge part in their business plan. “The programme is critical in guiding us, as we build and develop our brand identity.”

But one of the most important things Sinéad has learned from the whole experience so far? “We have learned to venture forward, no matter what the circumstances.”

Learn how your food business can develop and accelerate its growth with the Food Works program.


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