Having sold their sandwich business, Freshways, for more than €15 million to Kerry Foods, entrepreneur Tom Brennan and his brothers are back with a business that aims to become a leading player in the global dairy snacks market.
In 1999, when Tom Brennan and his younger brothers Ed and Paul set up the Freshways sandwich business, not everyone could see what they could see. “People laughed. They thought, why would anyone pay £2 for a sandwich when they could nearly get a sliced pan and a packet of ham for the same amount. What they didn’t see was the convenience factor and this strong emerging consumer trend,” Brennan said.
The Brennan brothers partnered with Enterprise Ireland, IAWS and Glanbia. Within four years, the business was producing 500,000 sandwiches per week in a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Finglas and employing 400 staff. Kerry Foods paid in excess of €15 million for the business, offering a successful exit for its founders and investor partners.
“The inspiration for our latest venture came to me when I experienced first-hand the challenge for parents in finding healthy and convenient snacks for the lunchbox,” Brennan said. “As my parents grew older, I realised that they had similar snacking needs to children, but there was an absence of suitable products for seniors.”
Having identified another opportunity in snacking, the brothers set up Dairy Concepts, based at the world-renowned Moorepark dairy research and development campus in Fermoy, Co Cork.
“Snack sales are experiencing exponential growth, but consumers are now seeking healthier and more convenient alternatives including protein-rich snacking options in more natural forms,” Brennan said.
“While dairy-based snacks are naturally high in protein and calcium and are perceived as a nutritional snacking option, there has been a lack of innovation in the category. Existing yogurt snacks have limited nutritional benefits and portability and existing cheese snacks are not very exciting. Furthermore, the majority of existing dairy snacks target younger children with a very limited offering for teenagers and adults.
“By leveraging our team’s entrepreneurial ambition and business scale-up experience with Ireland’s dairy science expertise, quality dairy ingredients and global reputation in dairy, we have the tools to create a €100 million-plus dairy snacks business. Using emerging dairy technologies, we’re focused on the development of innovative, value-added, all-natural, cheese and yogurt-based handheld dairy snacks, aimed at children, teenagers and adults in key global markets.
“Our first two innovations, dairy bars and crunchy cheese have recently been launched and a portfolio of other exciting world-first dairy snacks are in the development pipeline.”
The dairy bar product was developed using a novel dairy technology licensed from Teagasc. “It’s a creamy, high protein handheld sweet snack bar that comes in a mess-free, easy to open pod which is perfect for on-the-go lunchbox as well as in-home snacking and is available in chocolate and strawberry flavours.”
The dairy bars have been launched in France under the Tapufin® brand, targeting the afterschool meal, or ‘Goûter’ eating occasion. The dairy bar is healthier, more portable and less messy than yogurt.
The crunchy cheese product has been developed using a microwave drying technology licensed from a Canadian company to gently cook the best of Irish cheddar, creating crunchy puffed bites. “The products are high in protein and calcium, suitable for vegetarians and gluten free. They come in a range of six popular flavours including Original, Cheese & Onion and Salt & Vinegar.”
Crunchy cheese products have been launched in the Irish and British markets under the CheeseO’s brand. They have a 12-month shelf life and do not require refrigeration, so can be easily exported.
“We recently exhibited our first products at Anuga in Cologne, the world’s largest food trade exhibition, and the reaction to our products by leading distributors and retailers from around the world was fantastic. We have already begun taking export orders.”
Brennan is excited about his company’s portfolio of other innovative dairy snacks in the pipeline, including customer-specific products such as senior nutritional items, as well as market-specific products for Asian markets. “In addition to the development and launch of our own products, we’re currently doing collaborative dairy snack development projects with well known international players.
“The global market opportunity for dairy snacks is huge. To put it in context, Kerry’s Cheesestrings snack, produced in Charleville achieves retail sales of over €100 million in Europe and Group Bel’s Mini BabyBel achieves retail sales of over €1 billion globally. “We’ve invested over €7 million to date in product development and building the manufacturing plants for dairy bars and crunchy cheese.”
The company is raising investment under the Employment Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS) to accelerate its product development plans and scale up its manufacturing facilities.
For more information on the company and the EIIS investment opportunity, email [email protected]