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10-year milestone nurturing talent, feeding ambition

Article appeared in issue 6, 2022


More than 100 food and drinks companies across Ireland have completed the Food Works programme, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday. As the next cohort of young start-ups prepare to commence their Food Works journey in January 2023, Irishfood looks at this important initiative and the ways it has nurtured young, talented companies, and helped feed their hunger to grow and succeed  


At the recent celebration of the decade-long success of Food Works, those in attendance were treated to a feast of delicious food and drinks produced by companies – past and present – involved in the initiative. Tasting the fruits of those companies’ labour and commitment was a fitting way to mark the occasion as the focus of Food Works is to aid high-potential, innovative Irish food-and-drink start-ups, and set them on a path to success.  



The Food Works team – a tri-agency collaboration between Teagasc,
Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland – pictured at the 10-year celebration.
Photo: Fennell Photography. 


How does Food Works work?  

Food Works is a tri-agency initiative involving Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland), Bord Bia (Irish Food Board), and Enterprise Ireland (Irish government agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets).   
These three semi-state agencies, abundant in the areas of knowledge, support, and expertise, are aided by a strong stakeholder group of industry experts, business advisors, and ambassadors from across Ireland’s food and drinks sector.  
Head of Food Industry Development at Teagasc, Ciara McDonagh told Irishfood that the initiative is a ‘fundamental driver of innovation and entrepreneurship in the sector’.  
“The Food Works participants have made a significant impact on the Irish economy. There are 496 people employed directly, projected turnovers for 2022 combined are €60m, and 48% of participating companies have female founders.  
“The success of Food Works hinges on the strong collaboration of the three state agencies, Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc, combining their expertise and resources to deliver this springboard programme to accelerate the growth of the next generation of Irish food and drink companies,” she says. 


Plan B for business  

A young company’s investor-ready business plan is at the heart of its ability to grow and prosper and this is a key focus of Food Works. Over an intensive 10-month programme, the Food Works team challenge and develop companies’ business plans. Along that journey, these companies encounter a number of benefits that will shape them to come out stronger and more resilient on the other side, in the form of:   

  • Workshops – a panel of thought leaders and industry experts from across the food and drink sector deliver workshops that are specifically designed to help companies build robust investor-ready business plans;  

  • Business advisor supports – each company has a monthly meeting with a lead business advisor across disciplines such as finance, manufacturing, retailer engagement, export, marketing and distribution;  

  • Consumer and market research – aided by a dedicated research and consumer specialist based at The Thinking House in Bord Bia, this support helps companies to understand the business, target consumer and the market;  

  • Manufacturing and technical experience – from experts who can help companies overcome manufacturing and innovation challenges; and  

  • Feasibility grant funding – companies can apply for this funding, to a value of up to €35,000, through Enterprise Ireland. This includes up to €15,000 in salary support in addition to supporting consultancy, prototype, travel and subsistence costs.  


The importance of these supports cannot be underestimated, particularly because of the many challenges that start-up companies face, especially when trying to source suitable export markets.   
According to Ciara, these challenges include: “Understanding the market where an opportunity has been identified; market access – trade and language barriers and distribution; extended shelf-life requirements, regulatory/labelling requirements, for example.”


Despite the challenges, Food Works has achieved very good outcomes in this area with just over 56% of past participants already exporting. "This re-enforces Ireland’s positive global reputation for food and drink and highlights Ireland as a nation investing in the next generation of food and drink companies,” says Ciara.  
“Accelerating the growth of the most ambitious food and drink start-ups to develop enterprises of scale and realise opportunities overseas is a key objective of the programme,” she adds.  

As the next Food Works programme gets underway in 2023, Ciara has this advice for the participating start-ups: “Have a vision for your business. Think what type of business you want in five or 10 years as this will influence the decisions you make now, in the early stages, in relation to your products, operations, exporting, staff and investment.” 





All Real Nutrition 
“Before we started Food Works, we were in a small, commercial kitchen. Developing our sales plan provided us with the ambition we needed and now, we have grown into a 6,500 sq ft production facility which will allow us the capability to hit our sales targets next year,” said Niall Harty, All Real Food co-founder. 
“When a buyer hears that you’ve been through the Food Works programme, they are reassured that you have a solid proposition and team around you. The insights team at Bord Bia really gave us the support to delve deep into our brand. We did focus groups, consumer studies and validated this research with market research reports to greater understand who we are as a brand and where we needed to go to fully deliver in our value proposition.” 






“The Food Works programme was, undoubtedly, transformative for both the business and I. It gave me the resources, expertise and freedom to think bigger and more creatively about the problem I was trying to solve for my customers, resulting in a whole new approach,” said Shane Ryan, fiid. 
“Two years on and we've achieved milestones beyond what I could have imagined for a small Irish start-up - we went from a team of one to seven, hit seven figures in retail sales in our first year with all of Ireland's key retailers and expanded internationally, none of which would have been possible without the support and guidance of the people involved in Food Works.” 


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