Irish Dog Foods brings export market to heel

“Initially, we set up as a standard dog food business. But we found that we were just a ‘me too’ brand, so we needed something to set us apart. As a business in a small island nation, with all the logistical and transport challenges that poses, our business had to find a niche to allow us to sell globally.”

– Liam Queally, Managing Director, Irish Dog Foods

 

Case Study: Irish Dog Foods

“We have grown at an exponential rate and Enterprise Ireland’s support has been key to that growth,” says Liam Queally.

“We’re currently in our second phase of Enterprise Ireland-supported R&D projects with a range of new products focused on export markets in North America.” Queally is managing director of Irish Dog Foods, a pet food manufacturer headquartered in Naas.

The company, a recipient of Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding, produces a range of dry pet foods and meat-based treats. It found that ‘humanisation’ – creating dog snacks inspired by appealing and healthy human foods – was the key to opening new markets and increasing sales.

“Initially, we set up as a standard dog food business. But we found that we were just a ‘me too’ brand, so we needed something to set us apart,” explains Queally. “As a business in a small island nation, with all the logistical and transport challenges that poses, our business had to find a niche to allow us to sell globally.”

Key Takeouts

  • Developing niche products defined brand and opened new markets such as the US.
  • Applying for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding was straightforward and encouraged strategic thinking about research and development.
  • Open discussions and idea generation were a major part of the R&D process.

The company responded to this challenge by developing new product ranges, with support from Enterprise Ireland.

“New products are key to our growth in new markets. Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I grants have enabled us to get new products to market in a shorter time,” Queally explains.

In 2012, Irish Dog Foods successfully applied for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding to develop a humanised pet treat range, with the aim of launching these products in North America. The range included a healthy granola-style bar and a chicken fillet-based snack with superfood ingredients such as kale, spinach, cranberries and blueberries, and ingredients to promote good joint and skin health.

This innovation paid off, and the new products opened doors in the US market. Between 2013 and 2015, export sales increased from €29 million to €43 million and 30 new staff members were hired in Ireland. The company is now heavily export-focused, with many well-known retailers stocking its products. These include Petco, Petsmart, Walmart and Costco in the US, and Aldi and Lidl in Europe. Irish Dog Foods also has distributors further afield in countries such as South Africa, Korea and Japan. “Our American customers operate in what is widely agreed to be the most impenetrable and competitive market worldwide. In a number of these, we are the only Irish manufacturer listed,” points out Queally.

The company carries out all its R&D in dedicated facilities on-site. Initially, it had only one employee working on new product development. Now, the team has grown to fourteen people, including food technologists and innovation experts. R&D doesn’t have to be hugely technical, much of the work involves coming up with new ideas. “A key R&D facility is our innovation suite, a stand-alone room for thinking and brainstorming,” says Queally. “This is an environment designed for open discussions and idea generation, where we use idea boards to develop new concepts.”

Queally would advise other Irish companies to follow his lead and apply for Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding. “Applying is fairly straightforward, and we learnt a lot about R&D throughout the whole process, even the application stage,” he explains. “It got us thinking strategically about our R&D and what it could bring to the business. Any hurdles were worthwhile and we had excellent support.”

Click here to learn more about Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation supports.

Two Irish Medtech Companies with Global Ambition partner with Northwell Healthcare

The largest healthcare provider in New York State, Northwell Health, signed and sealed two new partnerships with Irish Medtech businesses. Northwell Health is using solutions from Irish companies to enhance customer experience and improve efficiency and productivity, thanks to a partnership signed with Enterprise Ireland.

Northwell Health has 22 hospitals and 600 outpatient facilities, and cares for more than 1.8 million people a year in the New York area, and beyond. President and Chief Executive Michael Dowling is highly focused on continuous innovation in what he views as a fast-changing and increasingly more competitive market.

Northwell Health reviewed over 50 Irish companies and agreed deals with two – Technopath Clinical Diagnostics and Salaso Health Solutions.

Technopath developed a first-of-its-kind, consolidated immunochemistry testing product. Consolidation is attractive to companies like Northwell Health because it enables clinical labs to significantly reduce handling requirements, reclaim storage and minimise waste, leading to a more efficient quality control process.

“The solutions Technopath has developed have dramatically helped us to improve the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of our laboratory quality control processes.”

Northwell Health has signed a 50-50 joint venture agreement with Technopath, with a view to promoting the Irish companies’ offering to labs all over the US. It owns one of the biggest labs run by a health system in the US – performing more than 30 million tests and analysing 200,000 surgical specimens a year.

Salaso Health Solutions is based in Kerry. The company has developed a platform which allows patients to use their smartphones or tablets to access and interact with high-definition video exercises prescribed by their clinicians.

The deal expands on the company’s existing contract with Northwell Health to provide online care management services to stroke survivors and patients with movement disorders and other neurological conditions.

Under the agreement, Northwell Health will invest in Salaso Health Solutions to enable the company to further develop the solution, expanding the scope of online rehabilitation care to patients with cancer, COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder] and other medical conditions.

“We are always interested in solutions that can improve clinical outcomes. Salaso’s app can improve what a patient does at home after they have been treated by a doctor so they don’t have to come back to the hospital and are more knowledgeable,” said Dowling.

Until two years ago, Dowling didn’t appreciate the scale of the entrepreneurial developments that have been built in Ireland. “I spent a couple of days going around to a lot of companies with Enterprise Ireland and I was completely blown away,” he says. “The capabilities and competencies that exist in Ireland, especially in areas such as Medtech, are phenomenal. In my view, this is down to the education system and the innovative spirit, personality and knowledge of the people.”

One of the areas where Irish Medtech companies are particularly strong in is digital health, according to Dowling.

“Everything is becoming more democratised because of the access consumers have to mobile phones. We do business with other countries, but there is nothing as expansive as what Irish companies are doing in the whole digital health and customer experience space. The consumer is the biggest change agent in healthcare. We have to deliver what the consumer wants. The innovations coming out of Ireland fit right in with that.”

 

Learn more about the Irish companies adding value to the North American health systems and key information on doing business in the USA.

 

 

Medtech Innovation in Full Health at Med in Ireland

Deirdre Glenn, Manager of the Lifesciences Sector at Enterprise Ireland, discusses key trends emerging from this year’s Med in Ireland event.

Pierre Chauvineau, Vice President at Boston Scientific, described Ireland as “a small country with a strong economy, where collaboration and values matter”. As a number of the event’s other speakers noted, the latest research shows that Ireland’s medical technologies sector is in full health.

Enjoying exponential growth from 50 to 350 companies, Ireland has emerged as one of the world’s top five medical technology hubs over the last 20 years. 13 of the top 15 global medtech companies have bases in Ireland, showing that the country has become internationally recognised as a preferred location for the development and manufacture of high-tech medical products. The sector now counts over 350 medical technology companies, of which 152 are indigenous and generate over €600 million in sales and €400 million in exports, employing more than 6,500 people.

The figures for exporters based in Ireland look just as strong. With significant growth year on year since 2012, Ireland is the second largest exporter of high-tech medical products in the EU. The objective of Med in Ireland is to support further growth by enabling companies based in Ireland to build partnerships with buyers from 42 countries that attend. A number of announcements illustrated the potential of these initiatives.

Meditec Medical announced that it successfully tendered for a contract with the international Boston Children’s Hospital to manufacture and supply Mediflex pressure relief mattresses to its entire hospital. Irish technology company Kastus announced the launch of an antimicrobial solution which can be used on devices, door handles and sanitary fittings in hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacture to prevent the spread of micro-organisms such as MRSA and E. Coli. Seabrook Technology Group, the Irish-owned manufacturing software specialist, announced a partnership with Toolroom Technology to provide an end-to-end offering for orthopaedic manufacturers.

Innovation is a key theme of Enterprise Ireland’s Irish Advantage campaign, which supports diversification and export growth by encouraging global buyers to ‘source their Medtech advantage’ and buy Irish. As Kevin Sherry, Enterprise Ireland’s Executive Director of Global Business Development, commented at Med in Ireland, “Our exports and employment are built on Ireland’s world-class innovation system.” This year’s event included its first dedicated Medtech Innovation Showcase to highlight these strengths.

Ireland’s medtech advantage is supported by investments in Research, Development and Innovation. 60% of medtech companies in Ireland are engaged in R&D and in 2015 companies spent over €205m on such activities. Enterprise Ireland has introduced a range of innovation supports to further foster the development of medical technologies, help clients to win more research funding through the EU’s €80 billion Horizon 2020 fund, and encourage knowledge and intellectual property-sharing. Technology Gateways leverage industry-focused expertise in Institutions of Technologies across the regions. Health Innovation Hub Ireland partners clinicians, academics, and entrepreneurs that work together to accelerate commercialisation. BioInnovate Ireland is a technology training programme in which academia, clinicians and industry collaborate to develop novel medical technologies. Shortly before Med in Ireland, the launch of another such initiative was announced; the BioExcel Medtech Accelerator Programme at NUI Galway, to support our pipeline of innovative start-ups.

The announcements at Med in Ireland demonstrated the commercial potential of these initiatives. Ireland’s innovation advantage is driving global market penetration for Irish exporters and supporting partnerships with reputable institutions, including Northwell Healthcare and the Cleveland Clinic. Med in Ireland showcased companies that are taking full advantage of these opportunities, building partnerships that secure business wins on a global scale. Medtech companies in Ireland are not only growing sales in traditional export markets but diversifying into new, higher growth markets. Notwithstanding Ireland’s competitiveness in medtech, these companies continue to face uncertainty generated by Brexit. To support them to succeed, we must continually innovate and showcase Irish innovation across the world.

Irish Breeze Gathers Force in the US

The manager of WaterWipes new sales office in New Hampshire tells Mary Sweetman what it takes to grow in the US market.

The story of WaterWipes is one of recognising a market need from up close and personal. Louth-based businessman Edward McCloskey, son of Boyne Valley Foods founder Malachy, established Irish Breeze as a cotton wool, soap and skincare manufacturer over 20 years ago to further diversify the family business beyond food.

When his own little bundle of joy arrived in the mid-noughties, Edward didn’t need a huge amount of convincing to recognise the attraction of wet wipes for busy mums, dads and minders, carrying out those messy cleaning jobs that come with nappy changing. But at the same time, he was shocked to learn of the cocktail of chemicals they contained – and convinced they weren’t doing anything to help his new-born daughter’s nappy rash.

The idea for WaterWipes was born: a product that combined all the convenience of a wipe, but was as pure and wholesome for little ones’ sensitive skin as cotton wool and water.

Dot-com channel

As time has proven, the idea was sound. But supermarket own-brand baby wipes typically retail at about 99c per pack, so the launch of a premium product into a mature, commodity market mid-recession wasn’t the most fortunate timing.

“It resulted in a lot of sales focus on the dot-com channel, starting with Amazon and the usual suspects,” explains French native, Christophe Bernigaud, who was hired by Irish Breeze as marketing manager for WaterWipes in January 2012.

Bernigaud, who has a background in international sales development and marketing, both online and in the ‘real world’, took on responsibility for developing the brand’s online sales, which included the UK, Irish, US, Canadian, New Zealand, French, German and Baltic markets.

Seeking a focus

Seeking one of these regions to focus on and become a significant player in, Irish Breeze looked across the Atlantic. “When we started seeing the feedback, we started focusing on the US, because it offered the biggest opportunity in volume terms, but also because it was waking up to a natural trend,” Bernigaud explains. “We saw we could surf this trend. While the cheapest was winning in Europe, we could be competitive within the natural/organic niche in the USA.”

On the back of deals with US retailers, including Walgreens/Duane Reed, Target and Amazon, as well as growth into the medical sector, where the skin-friendly wipes are being used in premature infant care, Irish Breeze opened a US sales and marketing office for WaterWipes earlier this year. The office in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is headed by Bernigaud and resourced with two US business development executives. Manufacturing remains in Ireland.

As to strategy, “multichannel is now”, Bernigaud explains, so it longer makes any sense to distinguish between online and ‘offline’ sales. All the old ingredients of the marketing mix are still required, plus some new ones.

Marketing

For the consumer to make that psychological journey from product awareness to the ‘buy’ decision, “they need to have seen the ad in the baby magazine in their obstetrician’s office, tried a sample, and seen the product on the supermarket shelf.

“You need still marketing, PR, events, your paid, your earned and your owned media. Your research needs to be qualitative and quantitative,” Bernigaud continues. “There is no silver bullet.”

As to digital, he confesses to being somewhat sceptical of the “overhyping” of social media. “Just because you are on Facebook, doesn’t’ mean you will sell. I’m more interested in behavioural marketing. You need to know the customer and understand what’s important to them, what they care about. I don’t care whether the consumer is 20 or 60. I’m interested in their behaviours.”

Second target

In addition to the consumer, Irish Breeze has another target group – the retail buyer – to consider – be that Target, Walmart or Amazon. Here Bernigaud says that, again, pre-digital-world approaches remain valid. People buy from people, and understanding what’s important to them is about all the usual things that corporates care about: the retailer’s value proposition – what sets them apart from their competitors; their pain points, where they are being hit or threatened; their corporate culture and the language they use to describe their business. For example, knowing that Target refers to the store’s customers as ‘guests’ demonstrates that you understand Target’s universe.

“We also need to understand the marketplace at every state level; each is a different country,” he adds. That’s why the new US sales and business developers are experienced account managers, but “not too experienced”. They’re at a point in their lives where they can take on a lot of travel and don’t mind being away from family.

Illustrative of the commitment needed, when we spoke, Bernigaud had just landed off a flight from Europe to New Hampshire, when he got a call to fly to St Louis the next morning to meet a buyer Schnucks, a Missouri-headquartered retail chain with 96 outlets in the Midwestern states.

“That would be considered small in the US. In Ireland, we’d consider it huge,” he says, underscoring the potential of the market.

Lean and R&D Important Enterprise Ireland Supports for Chanelle

“We have availed of various Enterprise Ireland supports including overseas advice, R&D grants and Lean supports. We are very focused on efficiency, and the Lean supports have been invaluable in this regard.

Enterprise Ireland’s emphasis on Lean practices helped us to take things a step further and go for Shingo accreditation, the programme for which we started in 2016.”

When it comes to Enterprise Ireland supports, Chanelle Group has availed of many initiatives which have made a difference to the Galway manufacturing company.
Tom Kelly, divisional manager for life sciences and the team at Enterprise Ireland have been a great support to Chanelle Group over the years, according to founder and managing director Michael Burke.

Having started the generic veterinary and human pharmaceuticals company in 1985, Burke was focused on exports from the very early days. Enterprise Ireland was always by the company’s side as it made strategic shifts along the way such as in 1996 when it became more focused on Europe.

Awarded by the Shingo Institute at the Jon M Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University, the Shingo prize goes to organisations that demonstrate a culture where principles of operational excellence are deeply embedded into the thinking and behaviour of all leaders, managers and employees.

Chanelle is also in the process of completing a 30,000 sq ft expansion of its 300,000 sq ft facility in Loughrea as part of a €70m investment programme supported by Enterprise Ireland. This will double production capacity at the site and lead to the creation of 175 new jobs over the next five years.

Guest Blog: Ireland’s International Traders Remain Optimistic for 2016

Commenting on HSBC’s 2016 Trade Confidence Survey, CEO of HSBC Ireland, Alan Duffy, says that Irish businesses remain optimistic about trade prospects but have more confidence in the local than the global outlook.

It is a measure of how far we have come as an economy that HSBC’s 2016 Trade Confidence Survey of 24 global markets saw Ireland at the top end of the rankings for positivity around its local economic outlook.

We have all seen that the combination of wage restraint during the crisis years and the exchange rate effects of the ECB’s programme of Quantitative Easing have both provided a lift to Irish competitiveness.

Whilst the outlook was inevitably moderate as the value of the euro eventually normalised, an economic recovery in advanced economies across the world likely helped sustain a robust performance for Ireland’s export sector. In particular, Irish exporters are well positioned to benefit from solid performances by the UK and US.

Longer term, Irish exports will benefit from growing levels of disposable income in emerging markets, and China will likely become one of our top export destinations in decades to come. In the near term, the advanced economies of Western Europe and the United States continue to be our biggest sources of export demand. As such, Ireland is relatively well placed to withstand any headwinds coming from a slowdown in emerging markets.

Despite these positives, overall exporter optimism had actually eased somewhat in Ireland. This was reflective of reduced optimism in the performance of the global economy. Irish companies expected the global economy to worsen slightly during that period. This slip in confidence levels reflected the deterioration in the global trade environment. World trade growth had slowed sharply that year, with import volumes in leading emerging markets, such as China, Russia and Brazil, weakening significantly.

However, the recent downturn appeared more cyclical than structural in nature. As many of these economies benefit from strong economic fundamentals, they are likely to be an important driver of global economic growth and trade over the medium term.

Perhaps aligned to such caution over the global economy, currency and commodity price volatility had emerged as the top financial risks anticipated by Irish companies. With this in mind, many were looking at strategies to overcome these risks such as negotiating better terms with trade partners and internal cost cutting.

Across Europe, stronger competition is the single most dominant challenge for businesses trading internationally. In line with rising cost pressures and anecdotal reports that companies are reaching the limit on the amount of cost increases they are able to swallow before passing them onto consumers, the emergence of competitors who compete solely on price is outlined as the biggest challenge, with the majority of Irish firms also highlighting it as their main worry.

With such competition becoming a concern, differentiation becomes increasingly important. That is why many Irish corporates are focusing on improving customer satisfaction and employee skill sets as their main objectives for the next six months.

Ceramicx – Using Technology Transfer for New Product Development

“Licensing new technology has enabled Ceramicx to develop cutting-edge innovation that will power the company’s latest wave of international growth.”

The Aston Martin BD9 touring car contains aluminium panels alongside fibre-reinforced plastic panels that are bound together with super-strength adhesive, developed by Irish company Ceramicx through an infrared heating process.

The West Cork-based company is now announcing a world-first in launching the Herschel, a machine that measures and maps infrared heating.

“Infrared is invisible, of course, so it’s a hard thing to quantify. Usually people measure infrared output as the heat produced as a secondary reaction, but the Herschel maps the output of an emitter in watts [power] per cm2,” explains Cathal Wilson, director at Ceramicx.

The technology, first pioneered at Trinity College Dublin’s Manufacturing Research Facility, is named after William Herschel, the German-born astronomer who moved to Britain in the eighteenth century and became famous for his large telescopes. He also discovered infrared radiation and the planet Uranus.

The licensing deal with Ceramicx and subsequent process of technology transfer was the fruit of an Innovation Partnership, part funded by Enterprise Ireland. In turn, it has unleashed a new avenue for international sales for the West Cork company.

Ceramicx is up-skilling its staff of 63 and preparing to double its floor space, adding further labs, offices and manufacturing capacity. The Ballydehob firm is no newbie, though. The company has been perfecting its infrared heat work for 25 years, and it exports to 65 countries, with key markets being China, Germany, UK and the US.

Ceramicx will use the breakthrough technology to further refine the infrared heaters and ovens it develops in-house for food and other manufacturers. But the company also expects demand for Herschel as a test instrument for large companies that rely on infrared energy in manufacturing.

Like baking a cake, there is a heat recipe in every material, and there are a number of variables that must be controlled to get the best, most efficient and most cost-effective solution. The Herschel will allow manufacturers to refine the dial on their heat recipe with amazing precision.

“There are probably five or six major companies in the world that would be interested in this new technology,” Wilson says. These include the likes of Corning Glass, European Aerospace, Boeing and leading-edge tech companies serving likes of NASA.

The company came to realise the need for a machine like Herschel after it had worked through a challenging assignment developing a finished oven for Corning Inc., the makers of the Gorilla Glass used in mobile devices such as the Apple and Samsung smartphones. A curved piece of glass 0.7mm-thick was required, and the initial calculation and trial stages of the glass finishing project engaged five Ceramicx engineers for over a week. “If I had been able to put the problem in front of the Herschel, I could essentially have had the figures immediately,” Wilson explains.

Within its own processes, the machine is enabling Ceramicx to create more energy efficient thermoforming machines for industry.

Another application is in the production of energy efficient ovens for manufacturers of foods such as biscuits, cereals and pizzas. Ceramicx has developed 12 food-industry related patents for Black and Decker, and the Irish company holds the commercial rights for the application of these patents in industrial-scale projects in Europe.

In the case of the Aston Martin BD9, Ceramicx designed and built not only a radiant infrared emitter, but it came up with the best possible solution so that the energy would be adequately absorbed, and the cure would take place in sympathy with the best chemical and mechanical characteristic of the bond. The result is an adhesive bond stronger than a weld, explains Wilson.

Commenting on the impact of Herschel, Cathal’s father, Ceramicx founder and managing director Frank Wilson observes: “For thousands of years, man has played with steel, trying out various heat works to it to make it suitable for certain jobs. In recent years, the plastics industry and other materials sectors have begun to realise that there is a whole range of heat work that can also be applied to improve the performance these materials also.” For these industries, he says, the benefits will be immeasurable.