On track to build a €100m global dairy snacks business

After successfully exiting the sandwich market, Tom Brennan is aiming to become a leading player in the global dairy snacks market

Tom Brennan of Dairy Concepts: ‘The global market opportunity for dairy snacks is huge’

Having sold his sandwich business, Freshways, for more than €15 million to Kerry Foods, entrepreneur Tom Brennan is back with a business that aims to become a leading player in the global dairy snacks market.

In 1999, when Brennan set up the Freshways sandwich business, not everyone could see what he could see. “People laughed – they thought, why would anyone pay IR£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,” said Brennan.

Brennan 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, representing a successful exit for its founder and investor partners.

Dairy Concepts IRL

Why it’s in the news: Dairy Concepts IRL is developing the world’s first dairy snacks for the global market

“The inspiration for my latest venture came to me when I experienced first-hand the challenge for parents finding healthy and convenient snacks for lunchboxes,” said Brennan.

Having identified another opportunity in snacking, Tom came back to the food industry and set up Dairy Concepts IRL, based at the world-renowned Moorepark dairy research and development campus in Fermoy. Dairy Concepts IRL is focused on the development of what it describes as a world first: dairy snacks for the global market.

With consumers looking for healthy alternatives that can fit into busy schedules, it presents a major opportunity for Dairy Concepts IRL.

“Snack sales are experiencing an exponential growth rate, with consumers 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 yoghurt 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,” Brennan said.

“Our first two innovations, dairy bars and crunchy cheese, have 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 and in-home snacking and is available in chocolate and strawberry flavours.”

The dairy bars have been launched under the Tapufin brand in Ireland for school lunchboxes and in France targeting the afterschool meal, or ‘goûter’, eating occasion. The dairy bar is healthier, more portable and less messy than yoghurt.

The crunchy cheese product has been developed using a licensed microwave drying technology 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 under the CheeseO’s brand. They have a 12-month shelf life, and do not require refrigeration so can be easily exported across the world. CheeseO’s are available in circa 1,000 stores in Ireland and Britain, including WHSmith outlets.

“We have already begun exporting to France, Germany and UAE, and we expect to begin exporting to the Middle East, China and the US next year,” he said.

Brennan is excited about the portfolio of other innovative dairy snacks in the product development pipeline, including consumer-specific products such as senior nutrition as well as bespoke products for Asian markets.

“The global market opportunity for dairy snacks is huge,” he said. “To put it into context, Kerry’s Cheestrings 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 €10 million to date in product development and building the manufacturing facilities for our dairy bars and crunchy cheese products.”

The company is currently raising investment under the Employment Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS) to accelerate its market expansion and product development plans.

For more information on the company and the EIIS investment opportunity, email: info@dairyconcepts.ie