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Invisible helper

The new range from Mr. Crumb is a convenient innovation
ideal for Covid-19 concerns

Mr. Crumb was founded in 1996 in Finea in Co. Westmeath when Bernard Coyle saw a gap in the market for fresh breadcrumbs. Fast forward over two decades and Mr. Crumb is now a multi-award-winning manufacturer of premium pre-cooked stuffings, and the number-one chilled stuffing brand in Ireland and the UK.  spoke to director, Jason Coyle about the company’s latest range, the Invisible Chef, which was developed with Covid-19 concerns in mind.

“We take fresh bread and add value to it, whether that means crumbing it to make breadcrumbs, stuffings and toppings under the Mr. Crumb brand; or topping, or filling sandwich and snack products under the Invisible Chef brand.

“We sell into both retail and foodservice and our main export markets are the UK and US and we also supply a couple of high-end customers in France. We even got an email from a man in the Falkland Islands recently who said he was enjoying one of our Invisible Chef burritos in Port Stanley, and our stuffings were on sale in Alaska last Christmas!"

The Invisible Chef is a ‘cook and serve in-pack’ snack range launched by the company in early 2020. “We have been manufacturing high-end snacks for retailers, cafés or ‘food to go’ for the last number of years, but we saw at the start of Covid-19 that there was a demand in the marketplace for snacks that would need less handling, less preparation and less cooking time. They would be essential to assist small operators, convenience stores, and deli counters to continue operating.

“We researched and developed specialist packaging and we believe that’s one of the unique selling points of the range. On a normal street, foodservice unit A may have a Merry Chef oven, unit B may have a traditional pie oven, and unit C may be a small coffee operation that just has a panini grill or microwave, and, historically, companies would have to offer different types of packaging for each of those cooking devices. With the Invisible Chef range, the same packaging works across all cooking applications. It was specifically designed to look like it was made in-house, so the branding is very discrete on the back of the pack.”

Jason believes this new range has consumer benefits too, offering a level of reassurance around Covid-19 and allergy risks. “Consumers can feel safe at the point of purchase that their product has been both cooked and served in pack, so there is no risk of contamination, which is important during these times. The Invisible Chef products will be advantageous for some locations in England (especially those running delis or making food in-house) when Natasha’s Law comes into effect in October 2021, and will save these businesses both cost and hassle.”

Natasha'sLaw

Natasha's Law concerns allergen-information labelling and includes stricter requirements for pre-packaged foods to carry a full ingredients list.

Waste is reduced too, as the product is delivered frozen and has a three-day chilled shelf life. “As the products are supplied frozen, versus traditional sandwiches which are supplied chilled, the customer won't get caught with waste and can take products out to use as they need them.

“We launched Invisible Chef into the marketplace in March 2020 just as Covid-19 was impacting. Nobody knew at the time the devastating effect it would have on the foodservice sector. We have two distributors in Ireland and a distributor in the UK and where they launched the range before lockdown hit, they have continued to sell strongly throughout.”

Now, with the potential reopening of the UK, Jason says they are seeing the opportunities in the HORECA/hospitality sector: "We’ve been working hard through the pandemic, preparing ourselves for the reopening. We have a lot of interest from the foodservice sector, especially in the UK, who see the benefits that the Invisible Chef range can provide. This includes cafés; small, independent deli operations; retail and travel sectors; and anywhere offering hot food and hot food to go.”

 

Making connections

Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board) Consumer Foods from Ireland event is coming at just the right time, he says. “From a sales point of view, business is becoming increasingly challenging. The Irish market is small, so companies need to export to grow and there’s a huge challenge for the industry around GDPR. A couple of years ago, you could ring a retailer and ask the name of the relevant buyer but now you can’t. It’s becoming increasingly difficult in the food industry to make those vital contacts and connections. Bord Bia’s help in connecting businesses with buyers in key markets is very welcome.”

And Jason has a number of markets in his sights. “We are going to the event with two product ranges: with the Invisible Chef we are targeting foodservice and retailers in the UK, Europe and United Arab Emirates; and we are targeting the US with our Mr Crumb retail stuffings. We launched Mr Crumb in the US in 2018 and we are selling into some prestige retailers such as Central Markets in Texas, New Seasons Markets in Oregon, Frazier Farms Markets in California. We would like to find partners to help us expand those listings across the US, especially on the east coast.”

 

Winning ways

Another talking point with potential customers is the slew of awards the company won last year. “We were privileged to win the ‘Business All-Ireland All-Star Innovative Company of the Year Award’ for the Invisible Chef range. It was surprising and greatly appreciated. We went on to win two Blas na hEireann Gold medals, Two Great Taste Awards, and a win in the Irish Quality Food Awards and the Free From Awards.

“The ‘Business All-Star Award’ looked for companies or products that had pivoted to respond to Covid-19. They liked that we had taken an existing line, innovated and adapted it in terms of both the product and packaging to help the foodservice industry through the new Covid-19 requirements. It gives us great recognition in Ireland and it’s a great calling card when you talk to buyers abroad.”

 

Local supporter

Sustainability is a point of difference buyers are looking for and Mr Crumb is one of the founding members of Origin Green, Ireland's food and drink sustainability programme. “As an agri-food business located in the countryside, sustainability and the environment are very important. We work with best-in-class local suppliers where possible for traceability and supply-chain benefits. We have planted 22,000 trees to offset our carbon footprint and have ongoing initiatives to reduce our water usage, our wastage and energy usage. We were in the process of putting in a number of beehives on the factory roof to help repopulate the local bee community and help the local flora and fauna when Covid-19 slowed us down but it’s something we want to do as soon as the lockdown ends and we can allow people back on site.”