The College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Loughry Campus has supported small and medium-sized businesses innovate through the Invest NI innovation voucher programme.

Daryl Adams has recently been successful in his application for an Invest Northern Ireland voucher to bring some of his ideas to life.

In March 2020, Adams scoped out his project with CAFRE Food Technologist Clare Campbell and they worked together remotely to get the project off the ground.

When he applied to Invest NI he didn’t realise how significant this would be for him or his business.

Adams is a successful businessman with restaurants in Ballymena and Antrim, namely Gatto’s Ristorante and Rococo.

With the benefit of Invest NI’s innovation voucher programme, he wants to convert his restaurant dishes into retail sales of ready meals and pizzas.

When asked what spurred him to apply for the voucher Adams said: “We felt that we could provide a better product than that which was on offer.”

‘A devastating effect’

Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on his businesses. They have been subject to national and local lockdowns and his previously bustling restaurants had their doors shut more than once.

The innovation voucher is now crucial to the survival of Adams’ business.

He wants to use his kitchens to produce authentic Italian ready meals and pizzas for retail sale at a time when the hospitality sector is on its knees.

The commercialisation of these products will provide income and also keep his many staff in jobs during these difficult times.

Over the last few months Adams’ staff have been working on the concepts with advice provided by Campbell on how to make the products more stable and shelf ready.

Through CAFRE, Adams has been able to get product microbiologically tested, nutrition testing, interpretation of the results and legal labelling information compiled in order to get his products ready for market.

Work is ongoing, and he hopes to get his products on sale in 2021.

Surviving Covid-19

The £5000 Invest NI innovation voucher is helping Adams to diversify his business in order to survive the ongoing economic effects of Covid-19.

Adams said:

Covid-19 has severely impacted all aspects of the hospitality sector. We have been completely closed for five months this year.

“The innovation voucher has given us a lifeline as we were able to work on recipes during our closure and are now ready to produce restaurant quality food for retail in the very near future.

“Initially we hope to supply our products locally and then to target major retailers.”