Vegan foods entrepreneur who started business cooking for husband now selling to SuperValu

Thanks Plants vegan products are sold in 300 stores across Ireland and has started exporting to Britain, Iceland and Spain

Aisling Cullen: Thanks Plants has raised €700,000 in funding from the Redesdale Food Fund and Enterprise Ireland. Picture: Coalesce

Thanks Plants is a food business started by Aisling Cullen in 2020 which, as the name suggests, is focused on plant-based ingredients for all of its products.

“The products are made for supermarkets including sausages, burgers and roasts. We pack as many wholesome ingredients as we can into our recipes and only use ingredients that the average person would understand,” Cullen told the Business Post.

“Our products are high in protein and iron while low in saturated fat and salt. We’re a healthy choice, but we also have beautiful bold flavours going through the products.”

The company has 11 staff and is based in Dublin, with its products in 300 stores across Ireland including Tesco and SuperValu outlets, having been through the latter’s food academy.

Thanks Plants has already raised €700,000 in funding, from the Redesdale Food Fund and Enterprise Ireland.

The idea came from a simple challenge that Cullen faced. Simple but not easy. She’s vegan but her husband isn’t, and he was generally wary of what was in other meat substitute products.

“I was bringing home substitutes for dinner, he’d flip to the back and it read like a science project. I started looking up YouTube videos and blogs to research how to make meat substitutes at home.

“I figured, what if I add cannellini beans or pearl barley? I wanted to put in as many good ingredients as possible. Once I started making them, he couldn’t stop eating them. I thought there must be a business here.”

Cullen did market research and found that Europe had few companies using seitan, a wheat gluten-based foodstuff that is a popular meat substitute among US businesses, so she chose that as the base ingredient for her products to build around.

“It’s regular flour with the starch washed off, so what you’re left with is a high-protein product. It gives that meaty texture to what we produce.”

The business has been through the New Frontiers programme in Enterprise Ireland as well as the Food Works programme with the agency.

“It was incredibly helpful. They lined us up with the best people in terms of expertise and advice,” Cullen said.

Having been in just five stores when the product was launched in May 2020, the business has grown substantially and Cullen is confident of bringing Thanks Plants products to more people in Ireland and overseas in the near future.

“We started exporting last year with our roast products, to Britain, Iceland, and Spain. We have our eye on the UK market; it’s the most competitive, but it has the most penetration when it comes to meat substitute products,” she said.

“Our roast products are unique and they go down well over there, so there’s a big opportunity. We are looking at developing a new facility. We can see we will outgrow where we are soon, so hopefully our next move will last us over five years.”