Caroline’s quest for coeliac-friendly snacks leads to tasty new business venture
Caroline Lynch in Strabane has created an enterprising small company specialising in a tasty and quality option for coeliacs seeking gluten-free sandwiches to enjoy ‘on-the-go’.
A registered child minder, Caroline, a coeliac for over a decade, had always found difficulty in sourcing a supply of wholesome and delicious sandwiches which were gluten-free in shops and cafes in the area. So, she decided to start making her own for outside catering and then, encouraged by family and friends, for retail outlets.
“It was so frustrating not being able to find the type and quality of sandwiches I wanted in Strabane and neighbouring areas,” she says. “I looked everywhere for gluten-free grab and go snacks for years. What made it possible for me to start making my own was the excellent gluten-free bread from Gallagher’s Bakehouse just over the border at Ardara in Donegal.
“Friends, including some who are also coeliacs, urged me to push ahead with developing them in a small enterprise.”
She named her business start-up Coelies, reflected its essential focus on developing tasty and nutritious snacks for coeliacs.
Caroline then set out to find out how to set up a small business for the production of a range of sandwiches and was advised and assisted by staff at Strabane Enterprise Centre to approach food experts at Foodovation in the Business Support Centre at the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry.
The challenge Caroline set the technical experts there was to recommend the best way to enable her to upskill production of “a range of gluten-free sandwiches for the retail and food service sectors with four filling options”.
Six fillings were eventually developed by Caroline there with the Foodovation team. They are: chicken salad; tuna and sweetcorn; egg and onion; traditional ham; chicken mayonnaise; and chicken stuffing.The choice of fillings was influenced by Caroline and friends who are coeliacs.
Foodovation helped the start-up entrepreneur to access experienced and strongly practical support through the InnovateUs programme which is funded by the Department for the Economy. This is a fully funded skills development programme which offers a unique, tailored training solution for small businesses like Coelies.
One of the programme’s aim is to deliver bespoke training solutions that encourage and enable a small business to bring an idea to the market through new product creation, service or process development.
In particular, the focus of the programme is to enable small businesses, with fewer than 50 employees, to get the skills to engage in innovation activities across the business. It also aims to promote progression in this area and enable businesses to undertake additional and further forms of innovation, which will contribute to their growth and the successful development of the small business.
InnovateUs provides between 10-60 hours of fully funded training to companies with fewer than 50 employees. A bespoke training plan is then created as required.
NWRC Product Development Technical Consultant, Rita O’Kane, helped Caroline with upskilling support in recipe standardisation and development, ingredient and packaging sourcing, production upscale particularly in gluten-free operations, prepack labelling including nutritional and allergens including gluten-free claims.
On completion of the project, the company created a range of gluten-free sandwiches which are now supplied to local convenience shops in Strabane.
Caroline is now busy marketing her range of sandwiches to caterers and retailers across the North West from her base in Strabane.
Caroline, describing the benefits of working with NWRC’s Business Support Centre, says “The support I received from Rita O’Kane at Foodovation has enabled me to confidently launch my new venture into the retail market and to enable coeliacs like myself to access quality gluten-free sandwiches in the dynamic ‘food to go’ sector across Northern Ireland and into Donegal.
“The knowledge and guidance provided by Rita and her team at Foodovation on gluten-free legislation and requirements as well as labelling and packaging support has been excellent, and I would encourage any small businesses to harness the skills programmes offered by NWRC.”
Dozens of artisan and smaller food and drink companies in the North West and beyond are benefiting from Foodovation which is now recognised as a hub of excellence for food development and technology. It’s an organisation with a lengthy track record of making positive things happen for ambitious enterprises. The centre opened in November 2016 and works closely with Department for the Economy funded programmes and Invest NI’s Innovation Vouchers and local councils. It offers access to advanced production equipment and now has clients in all sectors of the food industry here.
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