Food Stories switches from making healthy snacks to PPE

Quick-thinking North Down businessman Michael Heaslip has completely transformed his business from manufacturing his own brands of healthy snacks to importing and distributing medical grade PPE, helping support essential workers in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 21st May 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st May 2020, 5:09 pm
North Down businessman Michael Heaslip has completely transformed his business

The owner of Food Stories watched with horror as the extent of the crisis in PPE supplies for the healthcare sector began to unfold in early March. Aware that food manufacturers in Northern Ireland were also desperately looking for essential PPE for their employees, Michael acted.

He found the two major challenges were: sourcing a reputable factory manufacturing quality PPE and getting the products out of China, quickly.

One of Food Stories’ own brands is manufactured in Asia, so with existing contacts in China, he began his research and quickly established a stable supply chain and distribution to bring in Type 1 medical-grade face masks and other items of PPE to Northern Ireland.

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Once a reliable source was found, getting the products out of China quickly, proved to be an even greater task. Instead of shipping product in containers, Michael found himself navigating the unknown logistics of tracking individual boxes, arranging airfreight in massively reduced numbers of passenger aircraft, and dealing with continually changing international regulations and cargo capacity restrictions.

However, the result has been a regular supply of face masks and essential PPE to health providers and businesses in Northern Ireland. Michael has now set up a new company – Sia PPE – specifically for these products and is currently holding a rolling stock of 500,000 face masks for immediate delivery.

In just a few short weeks, Michael has now imported millions of items of PPE for healthcare and other essential workers. As many companies prepare to return to the workplace in coming weeks, Michael’s supply chain could be one part of the solution to ensuring workplace safety for employees.

For members of the public also struggling to access high quality face masks as lockdown gradually starts to lift, a retail pack has been developed and will be available in Northern Ireland supermarkets by the end of May or can be ordered from the website at

Before starting on this new venture, Michael took robust steps to ensure the supply chain was ethical, responsibility being an important consideration for him

“We engaged Intertek, the worldwide inspection agency to visit the facilities within our supply chain, so everything has been thoroughly checked and quality assured,” he explained.

“It was critical to me that the working conditions and quality of the materials we were proposing to bring in were unimpeachable. The face masks we’re supplying are 3-ply, medical-grade and tested to EN 14683:2019. It’s very difficult to source reputable manufacturing partners and the market is confusing. We hope that our regular supply will help companies source quality PPE so they can focus on ‘getting back to business’.”

Michael set up Food Stories in 2014, developing premium snack brands Pink Finch and Cloud Corn and supplying retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Tesco and a range of independents, as well as exporting to 13 countries. The vision and ability to diversify his business so quickly and significantly in the face of the coronavirus pandemic may be the thing that not only helps his business survive, but also helps ensure the safety of many thousands of workers in Northern Ireland as our situation continues to evolve.

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