Starting a ‘farm to fork’ business…what help is available?

Eddie O’Donnell of Teagasc has been involved in the set up of many agri-food businesses and he offered some advice to attendees at the “Starting a farm food business” event organised by Teagasc and the Local Enterprise Office in Co. Kilkenny at the beginning of the month.

“Starting a food business is not easy. To most people it’s a maze or a minefield – where do I get relevant information; who can help me and so on,” Eddie noted.

He went on to say that setting up a business requires “the 4 Ps”.

Passion is very important. If you’re starting out on this journey and you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing you’re wasting your time.

“You need to have a very good product or an idea for a very good product,” Eddie continued.

The place the product comes from and most importantly the person plays a huge role according to Eddie.

“A gathering of the four Ps together can lead to a very good end result.”

Getting people thinking

Before getting involved in any project, Eddie sits down with the person(s) and asks them to give three positive facts about their idea; three negative aspects to their idea; and a paragraph describing what’s interesting about their product.

He explained that this gets people to think about what they’re doing. He noted: “There are very few new products out there; usually there’s adaptations of an existing product.”

Developing a new product

Eddie outlined that anyone developing a new product needs to stick to the road map and have a good-quality, well-managed new product development process.

He explained that you need to start off with a concept and then gather as much market research and information as you can before you start to design your product.

Following this, you need to decide if you can make the product. Can it be made in your own kitchen? Does it need to be made elsewhere?

A continuous supply of ingredients is essential. Are you using seasonal ingredients or products from abroad which may be difficult to source?

He explained that small samples, 2-5kg in size, are very useful to get problems out of the way. He added that it is then important to get as much information as you can out of those 2-5kg kitchen samples.

Get the problems out of the way

Eddie said this can “get the problems out of the way”. These samples can be used to test the product for taste and consistency.

Eddie advised attendees to get people other than your family to taste the product and said children are often good judges.

However, sensory analysis can be carried out at Teagasc Moorepark and Ashtown and this help should be availed of.

Scaling up

When scaling up you must think of the cost of ingredients, time and packaging as well as deciding if the quality is the same as when produced in the kitchen. Packaging provides protection and preservation of our product.

It gets the product from you to the consumer in a good-quality fashion. Packaging is also there to promote you as an individual and your product.

Shelf-life testing can also be carried out and continuous consumer and retailer feedback is essential to improve the product.

Help is at hand

The most important message from Eddie is that there is loads of help available with all of the above from his team in Teagasc. €5.5 million has been invested at Teagasc in new equipment from processing to packaging machinery.

So, if you have an idea the best thing you can do is contact the team at Teagasc and your Local Enterprise Office.