Key questions to ask at your Vietnamese Market Advisor meeting

Successfully selling into the Vietnamese market earns you credibility internationally and can be a gateway to many other overseas markets.

If you are considering doing business in Vietnam, your first step should be a call with our team in Vietnam.

    The questions below were designed to help Irish businesses get the best out of their first Market Advisor call

    • How does the market look like for my products/services?
    • Is there a demand for my products/services?
    • Who are the key players existing in the market? Competitor analysis?
    • What is the usual route to export to Vietnam?
    • What is the business culture like in Vietnam?

    Set up a call with our dedicated team today, and be sure to check out the Going Global Guide 


    Enterprise Ireland’s top tips for entering the Vietnamese market can be viewed by clicking the graphic below.

    Global Ambition – Industry Insights webinar series

    Enterprise Ireland will host a series of Global Ambition – Industry Insights sector focused webinars for clients, to deliver market intelligence on the evolving international export opportunities across global markets. The five sector market webinars will focus on:

    • Construction – 15th September, 9:30am – 10:45am

    • Lifesciences – 15th September, 2pm – 3pm

    • Travel Tech – 16th September, 3pm – 4pm

    • Agritech – 17th September, 11am – 12pm

    • Consumer Retail – 17th September, 2pm – 3pm


    This webinar series will draw on Enterprise Ireland’s unique insight into key markets for Irish exporters lead by the Market Advisor in that sector and will explore crucial issues such as relationship strategies and the shift in consumer behaviour in the context of Covid-19.

    You can register using this link. You can register for multiple webinars and all registrants will receive a copy of the webinar recording and slides.

    happy employee

    Irish talent tech firms boost global engagement and productivity

    In this era of widespread remote working, employee engagement and wellbeing matter more than ever. Isolated workers need to feel a sense of community and get support from their employers in line with their company’s values.

    Companies around the world are looking to Irish talent tech companies for cutting-edge digital solutions to enable streamlined, effective work by HR departments, managers and employees. From wellbeing apps to performance management tools, Irish companies are exporting best-in-class products to businesses in dozens of countries.

    Most are also focused on integrating with the existing technologies used by companies, meaning those in charge of IT budgets can maximise their legacy investments. Discover how five of the best in Irish talent tech are meeting the needs of a global client base.


    1. Workvivo: Engaging employees with a highly social experience

    Cork-based Workvivo is an enterprise social network, designed to enable organisations to engage as well as communicate with their employee communities.

    “We took activities such as posting, liking and sharing content to an activity feed, which people are used to on social media apps outside the workplace, but developed them in a business context, enabling people to more easily engage with one another and with their company.” says Pete Rawlinson, Chief Marketing Officer at Workvivo.


    Describe your business

    “Disengagement was an issue for as many as 70% of businesses before the pandemic,” he adds. “One-to-one communication tools such as email or messaging facilitate communication but don’t do anything to provide that sense of community and culture.”

    “People  need to feel part of something, especially when they are working remotely.” Pete Rawlinson, CMO at Workvivo

    Since the pandemic spread, Workvivo has seen a significant increase in enquiries. “Companies are seeing that many remote workers can feel isolated. Our platform helps bring employees together through a highly social experience. We see customers using the platform to host activities such as quizzes and competitions that really help create that important sense of community….and fun!”

    Woodies found that its Workvivo activity went up when its workers were furloughed due to Covid-19. “These were mainly employees with no work email account or company device, but they wanted to stay engaged,” says Rawlinson.

    Workvivo has sought to ensure it can integrate with existing communication tools such as Slack, Zoom and Workday, and also includes built-in engagement analysis through pulse surveys, he says, adding that many customers report higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement than before they implemented the platform. “Higher engagement typically leads to increases in talent retention and acquisition,” he said.

    Established three years ago, Workvivo now has customers in 35 countries with over 150,000 users on the platform. The company is headquartered in Cork, Ireland and has recently opened an office in Sacramento, California. Having recently secured $16m (€14.2m) in Series A funding, it is now focused on expanding its US client base and accelerating its product development plans.


    2. Frankli: automating continuous performance management

    While performance review cycles can strike dread into both managers and employees, Frankli aims to make performance management easier and more intuitive with its end-to-end platform.

    “Our product allows managers to have much more meaningful conversations with people and support their development,” says Noel Dykes, founder and CEO of Frankli. “This approach is transformative and agile — we don’t set out to be a once-a-year annual cycle of goal-setting and meetings.”

    A software engineer by background, Dykes worked as a consultancy practice manager in New Zealand and saw first-hand that younger employees were particularly keen on continuous feedback and recognition. “People want to be truly connected to the work,” he says. “They want to understand their purpose. Why are they there? What is the company they are working for trying to achieve?”

    He adds that purpose-driven organisations will thrive, especially as remote working opens up a global marketplace.

    “Managers are going to become coaches, rather than engaging in direct management in the office where they can see employees and know what they are working on. From now on, they will have to trust people and give them much more autonomy.”

    Within Frankli, managers can set up regular recurring one-to-one meetings with their team members, setting priorities, agreeing action items and supporting accountability on both sides. The software suggests recommended talking points, based on insights from organisational psychology. Employees can also contribute comments and suggestions.

    The product also enables businesses to offer more tailored learning and development opportunities, including a two-sided mentor marketplace tool.

    Frankli has customers of all sizes in Ireland, the UK, Poland and New Zealand. While its core focus is midsize companies looking to scale, it already supports workforces of as many as 70,000 employees.


    3. Empeal: personalised employee wellbeing at scale

    While many employee wellbeing platforms work on a one-to-many scale, says Sohini De, founder of data-driven start-up Empeal, her business aims to deliver 1:1 wellbeing support at scale.

    “If someone is having trouble with sleep, perhaps not doing too much exercise, eating unhealthy food or generally falling into bad habits, they can go through the programme on our system,” she explains.

    “They start by completing interactive questionnaires and we can also integrate data from their wearable devices. They could be given a personalised programme to improve their sleep hygiene, for example. If they continue to have problems, their case is escalated to a sleep expert.”

    With users in Ireland and India, Empeal is now focused on expanding those markets and pushing into both the UAE and the UK, So far, it has seen engagement rates of 60% on average, which De says is high for a wellbeing app. “We have also seen very encouraging results in terms of people achieving their health goals,” she says.

    In addition to helping employees improve their wellbeing, Empeal also provides anonymised aggregate data to employers to enable them make better decisions, improve staff retention rates and attract more talent.

    To help companies navigate the coronavirus crisis, Empeal produced a free toolkit of resources and also made its community-level module free. “We were finding a lot of employers were asking, ‘How can we take care of our people at this time?’ — they were very concerned about how everyone in remote locations was coping not in touch with their workplace or workmates,” says De.


    “The community engagement part of the platform, which includes fun challenges and community boards, helps employees feel connected and it’s very simple to roll out for HR teams.” Sohini De, Empeal founder


    4. Peptalk: building community through connection and wellbeing

    The three founders of workplace wellbeing platform Peptalk — all former sports stars — know more than most the value of wellbeing when it comes to performance.

    “We had all been involved in high performance sports,” says CEO James Brogan, an all-Ireland winner himself and a cousin of Dublin GAA legend Bernard Brogan, another of the co-founders along with Michelle Fogarty, who represented Ireland at taekwondo. “We had seen that to get the best out of people, their lives need to be in balance. What you do off the pitch is as important as what you do on it.”

    Peptalk aims to help companies build sustainable high performance cultures through its community-driven employee experience platform. The product includes an insights tool, management toolkits, an employee app and a real-time measurement dashboard.

    “We’re helping organisations with those off-the-pitch activities. We’re helping humans to be better at what they do, to have more energy, and to be more focused and resilient,” says Brogan.

    He adds that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the issue of work-life balance: “Senior leaders have seen a different side to their staff. They’re now acutely aware that, unless people have proper support, they won’t be able to work to the best of their ability.”

    During the crisis, Peptalk has seen increased engagement from existing clients, while also doubling its usual number of demos to potential customers.

    Set up in late 2016, Peptalk has users in 10 countries, including Mondelez, McDonald’s and Paypal. “This is a global challenge faced by multinationals. We offer one solution that works across an organisation, so there is no sense of disconnection with different offices doing different things,” says Brogan.

    With serious plans to scale further, Peptalk expects to close out its current funding round later in 2020. “This is the time for us to get out and support as many organisations as we can,” says Brogan. “It’s a challenging time and the need has never been greater for the type of services we offer.”


    5. Wrkit: easy to implement and clinically-backed 

    Founded two decades ago, Wrkit was originally a group benefits scheme, which evolved into an employee discount scheme. While users can still access thousands of discounts on holidays, food, clothes and other products, Wrkit has expanded to offer other services, including a learning portal with 4,500 personal and professional courses, a recognition portal and a wellbeing portal called Powr.

    “POWR stands for Positive Occupational Wellness Resources, offering tools such as meditation, breathing exercises and reflective journaling” explains Jason Brennan, Wrkit’s Director of Wellbeing and Leadership.

    “The big differentiator between Powr and similar apps is that it offers 430 clinically based behavioural plans put together by psychologists,” says Brennan. “These are based on six paths — mind, sleep, work, life, food and active. When users answer the questionnaires for these paths, they are given a personalised plan.”

    “POWR users begin by finding out how they score clinically in the 6 areas of wellbeing and are instantly provided with personalised clinically based plans to improve engagement and growth in each area. During covid for example we saw a huge up take in the activity, work and life plans, helping not only users but employers by feeding back what is happening in real time with their anonymised and aggregated dashboard.”

    Wrkit is based in Dublin, but also has offices in London and Massachusetts. Its clients include multinationals such as KPMG, FedEx and Boston Scientific. Its internet-based application can be launched quickly as it requires no specific IT infrastructure, says Brennan.

    “All we need to launch is the list of employee ID numbers, and we provide lots of webinars and video tutorials to help staff engage with the tool, which is of course completely confidential.”

    When Covid-19 struck, Wrkit quickly found demand rose. “We launched to 60 companies in eight weeks,” says Brennan. “We also quickly created a Coping with Covid portal to help users.”

    ReturnWorkplace 1

    Covid-19: Returning to the workplace safely

    In four short months, the world of work has changed dramatically thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us experienced remote working, changed working conditions, altered hours or even layoffs. But now, as the economy slowly reopens according to the Government’s phased roadmap, employers and employees are slowly returning to the workplace, albeit a very “new normal” type of workplace.

    “The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on companies in many different ways,” says Karen Hernandez, Senior Executive, People & Management, at Enterprise Ireland. “As a result, the challenges that companies are facing as employees return to the workplace tend to be different, but in general, there are a number of key considerations that companies will need to address to ensure a safe return to work.”

    To help companies navigate their way through these considerations, Enterprise Ireland has produced Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide, which can be downloaded on the website. This is a practical guide that takes employers through four key areas: the health, safety and wellbeing of employees; employee communication and engagement; resource planning; and data privacy and GDPR. The guide also includes some templates that employers can use within their own business, such as a Pre-Return to Work form.

    “The first consideration that employers need to address is the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees,” explains Karen. “The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) has issued the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which supports companies put measures in place that will protect the health and wellbeing of their employees as the economy begins to open up. Measures include completing a Risk Assessment, completing or updating your business’s Covid-19 Response Plan, and asking your employees to fill out a Covid-19 Pre-Return to Work Form.”

    The HSA Protocol can look daunting at first, but Joyce Rigby Jones, Joint Managing Director at HR consultancy Voltedge, explains that it’s up to an employer to decide what is right for them. “The HSA Protocol provides a list of guidelines and protocols, and it’s up to each company to look at these and decide what is reasonable and appropriate in their case. But at the same time, as employers, we have to make sure we’re providing a good and safe base for our employees.”

    Many guidelines include practical measures such as putting processes into place for suspected Covid-19 cases in the workplace, but another major part of ensuring employees’ health and safety is looking after their wellbeing, as Joyce explains. “We’ve all gone through major stress and there’s been such radical change that every employer has to take  onboard how this has affected employees.

    Many employers have put into place an Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health Service to help employees with any issues they may encounter. But if you don’t have this, there are other things you can do, such as running wellness sessions or spearheading wellbeing initiatives.

    There are some really nice resources on the website called In This Together. The HSE website also has a mental health section, which is very useful. And of course, the Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Return to the Workplace Guide offers some useful ideas such as a buddy system, which can be great for those working remotely. Communication is key – not everyone will be able to return to the workplace so talking to each individual and making them a part of the decision-making process will help their wellbeing and make sure any decision is good for them.”

    Communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

    The second key consideration identified by Enterprise Ireland is communication, which is essential during a time of so much change. “The HSA has provided guidance on a number of practical measures to enhance communication with your staff as they return to work,” says Karen. “Employers should be looking at all the changes in policies and procedures that must be made and ensure that employees know what they are.

    A first step includes putting a Covid-19 Response Team in place, who will be responsible for completing and implementing the business’s Covid-19 Response Plan. At least one worker representative should be appointed, who will work with the team to engage with employees regarding any changes that need to be made as part of the Covid-19 Response Plan. All staff must also be trained.”

    Enhanced communication will also help your employees’ wellbeing. “Everything about the workplace will change, from where you enter and exit to where you take your breaks,” explains Fredericka Sheppard, Joint Managing Director at Voltedge. “Change is difficult and it’s up to each employer to implement those changes, map it out, communicate with their employees and communicate again – you cannot communicate too much in this instance.

    “Collaboration will bear fruit. You want to know if there are risks or if an employee is nervous about the workplace or feels unsafe. You want your staff working in a safe environment; if you are communicating with your staff through surveys, questionnaires etc on a regular basis, you will get greater engagement with your employees – and we know that in an environment where there is greater engagement, there is greater productivity.”

    Successful resource planning

    Inevitably, some businesses will have to take a hard look at their company and make some changes. Remote working will become a long-term reality for some companies, while sadly for others, redundancies may have to be implemented. Any changes in resources should be made objectively and with the constraints of employment law in mind. “Given current physical distancing guidelines, it’s highly unlikely that any company will be bringing back their full complement of staff initially,” says Karen. “Businesses will have to look at their resources in line with their business plans and their employees’ needs. For instance, some employees might have underlying health conditions and mightn’t come back into the office at first.”

    “Some companies may have to look at restructuring or altering their business,” adds Fredericka. “They must pay attention to the legislation in this area. This hasn’t changed and the crisis won’t excuse you if you don’t do it right.

    The Enterprise Ireland Return to the Workplace Guide has some useful information regarding this. Of course there’s a financial impact to this, but you must also remember that there’s a psychological impact too. The staff who are staying may be affected by any redundancies too – and this is talent that you have worked hard to get. Evaluate your business and market; you must keep this under constant review.”

    On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to look at the skills of your employees and invest in your talent. “Resilience and good people management have never been more important and we need to support and invest in managers in developing these skills. Your marketplace may have changed, you may have to alter the product you offer – invest in your people to adapt to these changes and you’ll reap the rewards in the future.”

    Protect sensitive information

    A final key consideration is the tricky issue of GDPR and data protection. The HSA Protocol requires employers to collect information and keep records that could contain potentially sensitive information. It’s imperative that employers only collect the information they need, and that it is stored appropriately.

    “GDPR and data security are more vital than ever,” says Karen. “The HSA is asking employers to keep contact logs, and there may be a need for some companies to undertake temperature checking too. There will also be health information included in the Pre-Return to Work Form. Companies need to be very mindful of their obligations under GDPR and data security. They must make sure that any information they request is reasonable and that this information is stored securely.”

    These points, and more, are explored and expanded in the Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide. Enterprise Ireland has also launched a number of supports for businesses, including the Lean Business Continuity Voucher, which provides companies with up to €2,500 to help them put into place any guidelines or strategies needed before opening up the workplace again. More details can be found at

    John Teeling

    Storyworlds Podcast #1 – Teelings Whiskey


    In a new podcast series, Storyworlds explores the inner life of Irish food and beverage as it goes global.

    In our first episode, storyteller James McCabe talks to whiskey innovator and lifelong entrepreneur John Teeling, founder of the Coolea Distillery, the Kilbeggan Distillery and the Great Northern Distillery, about the tribulations and triumphs of restarting Irish whiskey as a truly global enterprise.

    Practically single-handedly, John strove successfully over decades to restart the global success of a diverse whiskey industry – after the early world lead had been lost to sluggish innovation uptake and the Scottish contingent.

    John and James dive deep into the backstory of a unique world beverage and, in the process, discuss enterprise in crisis times and how Ireland might not only host the world economy, but help it reinvent itself.

    Sullivans Brewing

    Keep on brewing

    Sullivans BrewingAlan Quane, Group CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company, speaks about continuing to grow during difficult circumstances and building an international brand

    Sullivan’s Brewing Company, based in Co Kilkenny, has a fascinating history, dating all the way back to 1702. The company boomed through famines, fires, and wars, until one fateful day in 1918, at the end of WW1, an unfortunate member of the Sullivan family – a descendant of original owner Richard Sullivan – lost the business over a bet on a horse. Sullivan’s was then acquired by Smithwick’s, formerly a rival of the company.

    Alan Quane says, “It was in 2016 when I had met Paul Smithwick through my work with Diageo and he told me he was resurrecting this great brewery. So along with Paul, his son Dan, who is our Finance Director, and Master Brewer Ian Hamilton, who has huge brewing experience internationally with Diageo, we relaunched the business.

    “Then there’s Michael Meade, our US based co-founder, who was a strong believer and instrumental in fundraising from day one. Alan Smithwick, a cousin of Paul’s, was also a co-founder. Alan is not only a Smithwick, but also a Sullivan. So we have the Sullivan blood in the business which has led to our brand tagline of ‘brewing is in our blood’.”

    With the help of Enterprise Ireland, who provided grant support, and Bord Bia, the team rebuilt the brewing business, with a real focus on exports. As soon as their ale was out their gates, they were exporting to the US, places such as Buffalo in Upstate New York. “Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia were extremely helpful from the early days,” says Alan.

    “We knew we had a great story to tell and we wanted to brew world-class quality beer to honour this heritage.” confirms Quane.

    “In fact, in 2017/18, we won the best beer in the world competition at the Oscars of the beer world in Burton-on-Trent, amongst 1,300 beers from over 45 countries around the world.”


    Silver lining to the Covid-19 crisis

    Having been through difficult times, including the Great Famine and many a rebellion, Sullivan’s Brewing Co. is no stranger to challenges – so how have the company been coping during the Covid-19 pandemic?

    “The on-trade shut down completely and utterly in all of our markets in the US, as well as Ireland,” says Alan. “The off-trade retail environment were very much focussed on big brands and boxes of the beer, so shoppers weren’t looking for ‘craft beer’ for the most part, they were really going after the deals and a quick-fire purchase.

    “We had to move with speed into survival mode, cutting our overheads and any costs we could get at. From a supply perspective, we had created great momentum in the States up to St Patrick’s Day prior to the lockdown. We had nine new markets in the US alone year to date, on top of six new markets added in 2019. This had led to great strain on our supply chain.

    “But during the lockdown, we were lucky enough to be able to brew here in Ireland and therefore we were able to build up the pipeline inventory for these US markets.

    “In Ireland we also started selling our beer online direct to consumers’ homes, keeping the brand front-and-centre during these very strange and isolating times. That was a silver lining in a very dark cloud.” says Quane


    Helping hand

    Sullivan’s Brewing Company and family motto has long been ‘standing up to do the right thing’. Back during the Great Famine, the brewery was transformed into a soup kitchen to serve food for those most in need. And this trait has lived on today. During lockdown, the company went above and beyond to support the community in Ireland and the US.

    “We sent pizzas from our Sullivan’s Taproom in Kilkenny to frontline staff at the regional hospital and Gardaí station,” says Alan. “We also contributed to the Answer Ireland’s Call charity, helping them repatriate much-needed frontline staff to Irish hospitals at the peak of the pandemic. Stateside, we helped deliver meals to people in need, for example, through the VA Medical Centre and Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY. That concept of community has always been important to us and our sales team were very happy to try to help.”

    So what has Alan learned from the pandemic?

    “As a team, we have learned that we are very resilient,” he says. “The team and our plans pivoted quickly to focus on a new set of priorities in an unprecedented and seismic change to our customers’ needs and channel dynamics. As always, we’ve learned that innovation and creativity is central to how we respond to the fast-changing needs of our trade partners.

    “We have also upweighted our activity on social media during lockdown, learning how to be much more effective in that channel for relevant brand news and engagement.” says Quane.

    Future focus

    Alan says they now have plans to relaunch their route to market in Ireland. “We’ll service pubs and restaurants directly ourselves. We will continue to use C&C, our distribution partner for other opportunities, but by taking control of the bars and restaurants, I believe this will give us a chance to get even closer to our customers and their needs, and see how we can better serve them.”

    Alan emphasises that a huge part of their future focus is exporting. “Having expanded to nine US markets in the early part of this year, on top of six last year, we have a lot of very new markets to nurture and grow. We’ve also plans to add more new markets in the US and look to the UK and Canada to continue to fuel our rapid expansion plans.

    “Throughout these difficult past few months, we’ve maintained a very close relationship with Enterprise Ireland. They supported our very successful and latest round of funding. They’re a firm believer in us and continue to help us as we transition from a high-potential start-up into a successful scaled-up business.”


    Going against the grain with Fitzgeralds Family Bakery

    How Fitzgeralds Family Bakery has risen to the challenge during the Covid-19 crisis

    “We have been very busy during the lockdown as retail demand has increased significantly,” says Simon Fitzgerald, Director of Fitzgeralds Family Bakery. “Unfortunately, while retail sales have increased because consumers are mostly eating at home, the food-to-go and food service suppliers have been very badly hit.”

    Simon is part of the fourth generation to run his family bakery, Fitzgeralds Family Bakery, which was first opened on Blarney Street in Cork city in 1910 by his great-grandfather. It is now run by Simon, Suzanne and Garry FitzGerald, with a whole new generation of little tasters by their feet.

    The bakery sells to retail businesses including SuperValu, Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Eurospar, Mace, Londis, and Costcutter in Ireland and also exports its products to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Ocado in the UK. The range of baked goods includes wraps, Bake-at-Home French and Italian breads, pittas and naans, pizza bases, and their most popular product, bagels. Due to being a retail business, they benefited from the initial stage of panic buying and being an essential service.

    “When the lockdown hit, our sales increased by more than 30%,” says Simon. “Now the panic buying has settled, and we are still seeing an increase of around 10 to 15% for the next few months potentially. As hotels and restaurants were forced to close, the manufacturers supplying those customers suffered badly. We were fortunate that our main service was retail and we had success in the UK market too, so that really helped us.

    “Although we have had to make a lot of changes to our ways of working to make sure everyone can work safely, we have been very fortunate that we have had the full co-operation of our great staff and that everyone has stayed safe and well.” explains Fitzgerald.


    Essential service

    During the Covid-19 crisis, many businesses struggled, either through enforced closures or too much demand in a stressful environment.

    Simon says, “Our aim was to produce enough product to meet the demand for our customers. And there was such a demand! We were also very fortunate that we had ordered a second bagel production line in October, which has been delivered and commissioned in recent weeks.”

    Fitzgeralds Family Bakery was able to face this task with the help of Enterprise Ireland and their supports. They have gained support and grant aid over the years, including capital and employment grants to help the business grow.

    “We have been able to go from having fewer than 50 employees to nearly 100. This is due in no small part to the support and guidance we have had from Enterprise Ireland. We have been incredibly well supported by them. They invest in businesses to help them provide employment and I think we have achieved those goals.”

    Having such support is important for the future of the business and the industry at large as the pandemic has changed everything about the business landscape. It has vastly changed lifestyles, which in turn has changed working lives and even the way people eat.

    “With the lockdown and social distancing, it has made people stop, re-think, and change their eating habits. Going forward, there will definitely be fewer people going out to eat. More people are working from home and that is likely to continue to some degree and children may well see some of their education being delivered by remote learning, so there is more demand to eat at home.

    “It really does feel like an opportunity for those of us in the retail food industry as it’s more likely people will buy food in a shop and take it home than eat out. This means an increase in business.” says Fitzgerald.

    “We are a modern family craft bakery and we want to keep producing high-quality products. We will continue to develop our range of products and continue to be innovative and bring new exciting products to the market. We have nearly doubled our retail sales in the last two years, and I think that’s due to this commitment.”


    Cali Cali

    Flavour of success

    Tom Gannon and Niall McGrath - Cali Cali

    Niall McGrath of Cali Cali speaks about maintaining his vision for the brand during Covid-19

    The Cali Cali brand is the brainchild of business partners Niall McGrath and Tom Gannon – the duo behind Fulfil bars – and Celebrity Chef Donal Skehan. Inspired by the street food markets of California, the team wanted to develop a range of sauces and crisps that were ‘healthy, tasty and interesting’, taking the melting pot of Californian street flavours back to Europe.

    “We developed Cali Cali back in summer 2018,” says Niall McGrath. “We saw that there were two megatrends happening in California, one was around healthy eating and the other was around street food, so we started thinking about creating a lifestyle brand that brought the flavours of the world together with healthier snacking and eating, and could be distributed within arm’s reach.

    “We were travelling around in the car one day, listening to Biggie Smalls and heard the words, ‘going back to Cali, Cali’, and that’s when the name was born!”


    Guilt-free snacking

    The guilt-free snacking brand, which has a recognisable bright orange logo, has already released several innovative treats, including healthy crisps and a range of flavourful sauces. “The sauces are available in the flavours, San Diego peri-peri, Tijuana hot sauce, Frisco hot wing, LA Street Food Sriracha and Baja chipotle salsa.

    “We also had an interesting idea for protein crisps, which we found impossible to get right, but eventually we met our current crisp manufacturer at a trade show and the rest was history. We now have crisps available in Golden State tangy cheese and onion, Tijuana hot sauce, Baja buffalo chipotle and Thai Town sweet chilli. They don’t use preservatives or MSG and use real-food ingredients like chickpea flour, rice flour and beans. They’re also gluten-free.”

    Despite launching the sauces and crisps in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic began in Ireland, Niall says this has not hindered their success.

    “In fact, we have managed to spread our wings,” says Niall. “We had plans to launch into the Middle East in another couple of months, but we decided there was no point in waiting around and moved these plans forward.

    “Now, we’re on track to launch in the UAE in September and on top of that, we’ve just started exporting to the UK.” explains McGrath.

    Niall says Enterprise Ireland has been a big support to the company. “We’ve been working with Enterprise Ireland pretty much since the get-go. They invested in our business in March and this gave us confidence in the value of the business, that it’s something worth investing in.”

    Niall says there were naturally some challenges in the past few weeks, “these challenges were in relation to our crisp sales. Any sales would have been at a convenience store for those on-the-go or city centre convenience stores, so there weren’t as many people picking them up. However, our sauces sold really well in stores across Ireland.


    Addressing the impact of Covid-19

    All during lockdown, Niall says the team has been coming up with either new revenue streams, new product developments, new distributions within the Irish market and export opportunities. “And all from our homes!

    “We even launched a new product last week, our Pop-A-Grains, which is a low-calorie, low-carb bread substitute. They’re like large poppadoms!

    “We’ve been very active across social media too and our customers have given us great feedback.”

    Has Niall had to adapt many business processes as a result of Covid-19?

    “We realised that when you get hit with something like this, you just go back to the simple things, and manage your cash really well on a month-to-month basis. Look at new revenue streams and routes to market.

    “The big change for us really was the timelines. Covid shifted the goalposts on a lot of things, but we never once said we would scrap a business plan or come up with a whole new positioning. If the plan is right, just continue to do the right thing. We haven’t changed our vision, our strategy or our range, but the timelines had to move.”

    Looking forward, Niall says he can see a lot of opportunities arising, “What’s important to us is continuing to distinguish Cali Cali as a lifestyle brand that stands up as being healthy, as well as tasting great. We’re aiming to reach multiple different channels in multiple different countries, and I’m excited to see what new opportunities come up.”

    Resetting your business model

    Resetting your business model in response to Covid-19

    In preparing for tomorrow’s world, businesses need to reset their business model to remain relevant to their customers in the new environment

    The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world and transformed the environment and operating rules for business. Last year’s winning formulas have become failed propositions almost overnight, and many of yesterday’s compelling products and services are obsolete in the context of tomorrow’s needs.

    This requires businesses to take a long, hard look at their business models in order to remain relevant to their customers in the new environment. They will need to reassess what they sell, who they sell it to, and how they make money from that. They will also have to examine why people buy from them and how that translates into profitability.

    According to Business Financial Consultant Brendan Binchy, companies need to focus on four key areas when seeking to reset their business models:

    • Their current product offering and how can it be developed, changed, or delivered differently
    • Who their customers will be in future, both current and new, and if there is a need to drop some existing ones
    • The reasons customers buy from them, their new value proposition, and how they will do something unique; and
    • How they will make money – lower input costs, production efficiencies, premium price or volume increases.

    When looking at the product offering, Binchy advises companies to ask the hard questions. “Have you got any inherent future proofing protection for your product or service? What is unique about it? What is its lifecycle in the market? How much of your revenue is dependent on it? What are most profitable products?”

    The answers to these questions will help decide what products to retain or drop, as well as inform new product development efforts.

    Customers should be subject to a similar analysis, he advises. “Who uses your products? What are their demographics? Who are your most profitable customers? Where are they? What defines your ideal customer and where can you find more of them? Why are you still dealing with unprofitable customers?”

    This will assist in defining target customers. “Businesses should categorise customers into groups according to their profitability and different attributes, and then select which ones they want to deal with in future. This may lead them to stop dealing with some of them. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to fire customers who don’t value what you do.”

    The next step is to establish why these customers will buy from the business. “Go out and ask your customers,” Binchy advises. “Bring them in and talk to them about it. Find out the defining attributes of your most important customers and find ways of meeting their expectations. This will help you pick the right people to work for; people who value what you do. If a multinational has been buying from you for the past 10 years, you must be doing something right. Find out what that is and build on it.”

    Making money is the other and perhaps most critically important part of the jigsaw. This will require the business to look at the key business model drivers of products and services, marketing and sales, and finance, in terms of profitability, cashflow and return on investment. “They are the what, the who and the how of the business model,” Binchy explains. 

    “The enablers are your people and systems and processes that support the business. You can’t grow a business without all three drivers, being robust and in balance with each other. You can have great customers and products, but you won’t have a business if you’re not making money.” says Binchy

    An analysis of those drivers, along with the enablers, will give you a clear view of the revenue and cost bases of the business, and will help identify how the pathway to profitability can be bridged. “A business might look at reducing materials, labour or other operational costs. It can also look at production efficiencies or seek to increase prices if it can be positioned in a premium segment of the market.”

    The remaining question is how to finance the transition between the old and the reset business models. “The money and support are there to help companies bridge between the two. We just have to hope the transition period between them is going to be as short as possible,” Binchy adds. “The Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Business Financial Planning Grant is there to help businesses start the journey. It offers a 100% grant up to the value of €5,000 to fund the cost of a financial consultant to prepare a financial plan that shows exactly how the company intends to reset and adapt its business model as it emerges from lockdown. The Lean Business Continuity scheme offers vouchers worth up to €2,500 to fund the cost of training and advisory services.”

    He points to the €450 million Covid-19 Working Capital Loan scheme and the €200 million Future Growth Loan Scheme available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland as potential sources of loan finance for companies.

    In addition, there are the Enterprise Ireland Sustaining Enterprise Funds which offer funding up to €800,000 to fund the implementation of stabilisation and viability plans. Smaller businesses can also apply for funding of up to €25,000 or €50,000, depending on the size of the business.

    Both schemes feature repayment moratoriums for the first three years, a very important consideration according to Binchy. “That is very attractive when the company doesn’t have repayment capacity for the moment. They can’t go to the banks if they are in that position. Businesses have to dance very carefully when seeking funding, and these schemes certainly help with that.”

    Learn more about the Enterprise Ireland supports available in our Accessing Liquidity & Managing Cashflow webinar

    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.


    Bean & Goose founders

    The sweet taste of success

    When the Covid-19 crisis hit, Irish chocolate company, Bean & Goose, made the most of the lockdown

    “The lockdown began right before Easter, which is one of our biggest times of the year,” says Natalie Keane, co-owner of Bean & Goose. “We had finished making and packing our Easter products and we were just about to start shipping them out to our retail customers. But in about two days, we lost about 95% of our customers and our Easter products were sadly left on the shelves.”

    Set up in 2016 by sisters Natalie and Karen Keane in Co Wexford, Bean & Goose specialises in making craft chocolate bars, truffles, and chocolate gifts such as their Tasting Club, a subscription service which sends out two bars of chocolate, a once-off bar and one from the core range. They started selling to markets around Dublin until they began getting orders from retail outlets.

    But because they were focused on in-person retail through independent retailers, hotels, and cafés to sell their products, the lockdown came as a shock to their business.

    “We quickly made the decision that we would have to really ramp up our online campaign because the only way to get these products to our customers was through our online store,” says Natalie. “We were lucky that we invested heavily in our digital marketing in the last couple of years so that when we asked our customers to make the transition to buying online, they were very open to doing that.”

    Because of reaching their customers online, the sisters managed to sell out their Easter range, from dark chocolate hares to chocolate goose eggs. In fact, sales figures went up 65% in March, April and May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. Within two weeks of online sales, they knew that their customers were loyal to them and would likely continue to buy the products this way.


    Hard work and support

    Natalie and Karen say that a big reason why their business was able to make the leap online and succeed, was due to their hard work over the last few years marketing and building up a solid customer base. This work was helped by being accepted for Food Works in 2015, an Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc backed accelerator programme for food and drink businesses.

    “This was hugely important for us,” says Natalie. “It allowed us to exhibit in bigger markets, secure feasibility funding from Enterprise Ireland, and it really set us up to think of the business as a scalable opportunity. Food Works gave us the roadmap to be able to build the business with the mentoring, advice and contacts they made available to us.”

    While this support has helped them achieve success, it was also great timing which helped them during the lockdown. The drive online actually represented an opportunity they didn’t realise they needed.

    Natalie says, “We are in a transition stage at the moment as we are changing our core range of chocolate bar flavours for the first time in five years, as well as our packaging. We had always planned to do that at this time, but because we used to deal predominantly with retail customers, we believed we would have to scale back a little and maybe even close the store as we transitioned.”

    “Now that we’re trading online for most of our business, we have been able to make the transition and continue trading because our online customers are perfectly fine with the product arriving in the interim packaging and flavours. It’s worked out really well for us.”

    As Bean & Goose have managed to keep their business thriving under the lockdown pressures, they also took part in an initiative to highlight the work of frontline workers during these extraordinary times. They were one of 18 Irish designers and makers to give away their products in a hamper to a nominated hero.

    “One amazing thing I have noticed through all of this is how very kind and thoughtful people are to each other during this time. So they want to give gifts and there’s no better gift than chocolate. We are definitely selling the right product at the right time!”

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

    Creating a buzz in the drinks market

    Irish alcoholic beverage brand Beekon Batches are growing as a business and have not let the lockdown be a buzzkill

    “When Covid-19 hit we had to get over our two weeks of thinking ‘do we have any business left, most of our sales were in bars, restaurants and hotels’,” says Karen O’Neill, founder of Beekon Batches. “We quickly got over the shock, pulled ourselves together and hatched a plan! “We couldn’t let it pull us down, so we decided to pivot the business online going direct to consumers whilst also strengthening our retail presence.”

    Entrepreneur Karen alongside her wife and business partner Helen Kennedy are the brains behind Beekon Batches, an Irish-made honey-based, all-natural alcoholic beverage launched just last year. Karen, having been involved in the drinks trade for 20 years, realised people’s attitudes were changing on what they consumed. All-natural products, free from additives and preservatives, were growing in populatiry  and saw the opportunity to create   something new.

    Beekon Batches is a “honey refresher” and is made with the love of all things bees. It’s created from honey infused with natural ingredients such as fresh lime and ginger, and has  an alcohol content of 5%.

    Having  just started on the Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and Teagasc accelerator programme called Food Works, the Covid-19 crisis hit, and  their business hit a proverbial wall  due to having limited retail presence.

    “We are one of the classic, positive pivot online stories as we managed to be successful with our online business and growing our retail footprint.A lot of that is based on the support, the resources and help we received from the Food Works programme.” says Helen

    Helen says, “, When Covid hit, Food Works kicked in with a comprehensive, all encompassing program of support tailored to each participating business.  This was facilitated online right after we went into lockdown.  I have gained invaluable business and management insights across the whole business.”

    Everyone on the programme is going through the same thing together so Helen says that every week everyone goes out to buy a product from another business on the programme. “There is a lovely level of support and comradery there.”

    A hive of activity

    Karen says that from being  anxious at the beginning of the crisis, today she is amazed at how phenomenally well their business has taken off .

    “The combination of our new store listings such as SuperValu & Molloys Off licence stores, our online direct to consumer sales and our existing listings that have continued to support us means that we are delivering double the revenue than we were pre-Covid, ,” says Karen. “Our customers and members of the trade have really rallied around us and our story in particular. That is the fact that we are women with a brand-new product, trying to break down the gender bias in a very male-dominated drinks industry. Consumers too are responding very positively, they are craving something new, particularly at this time and Beekon offers them just this, something different and exciting.

    “Everything we do is different to anything else on offer right now. Our drink is new, our packaging is textured and fun, and the locations where we sell are based on demand. We always ask our community where they want us to stock and we try to make that happen.”

    Because of this support, one of the ways Beekon Batches has been able to give back is by supporting the bees. They do this with their bee pollinator programme. Wherever Beekon is sold, the business tries to do something to help the bees. For example, providing wildflower bee bombs to deploy wildflower seeds, and providing bee hotels where bees can make their nests.

    “Last summer we partnered with Airfield Estate to allow bar and store staff to undertake full immersive bee experiences to heighten the awareness and effect behaviour changes to help support the bees. I think the trade really loves what we do here as it’s meaningful and impactful with its intention.”

    The future looks very bright for Beekon Batches, so what does Karen see for the future of the business?

    Karen says, “We want the drink to be universally sold in Ireland and then internationally. Consumers are becoming more conscious about what they’re consuming these days and about their own influence on sustainability, so another goal is for everyone to buy with this in mind. Our product can be the thing people choose to make a difference in the world and that’s an amazing feeling.”


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