Kestrel expands in Craigavon to meet demand for plant based foods

Kestrel Foods in Craigavon is developing into one of Northern Ireland’s most innovative and successful producers of plant-based snack foods for the growing market opportunities in Great Britain and further afield.

By Sam Butler
Monday, 25th April 2022, 8:00 am
Michael Hall, managing director of Kestrel Foods/Forest Feast in Craigavon

Kestrel Foods in Craigavon is developing into one of Northern Ireland’s most innovative and successful producers of plant-based snack foods for the growing market opportunities in Great Britain and further afield.

Led by entrepreneur Michael Hall, the family business, which is best known for its market leading Forest Feast brand of dried fruits, nut snacks and trail mixes, has recently acquired Just Live a Little, a successful local granola breakfast and snack food business. The acquisition strengthens Kestrel in the fast growing granola segment that’s widely seen as being a much healthier choice especially at breakfast.

The Just Live a Little brand, which developed in Portaferry and began in the farmhouse kitchen of David and Jill Crawford, joins Kestrel Food’s award-winning portfolio of Forest Feast, ACTI-SNACK and Private Label to continue its growth within the dynamic plant-based arena.

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Explaining the thinking behind the takeover deal, Michael says: “The acquisition of the Just Live a Little brand is aligned to our ambition of creating an innovative snacking and granola business with a strong portfolio of brands, brilliant products, and world class capability at Craigavon.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to build on the legacy of the Just Live a Little brand for wholesome artisan granola and snacks,” he adds.

The acquisition is something of a logical development for Kestrel given its longstanding relationship as the sub-manufacturer of Just Live a Little’s portfolio of granola and snack bars over many years.

The Just Live a Little brand was founded in 2012 by the Crawfords, who began making and selling artisan granola at home for shoppers in local markets such as St George’s in Belfast.

The granolas became popular in homes, hotels, and cafes across the United Kingdom, and have continued to win business, with listings in Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco NI, as well as many fine food retailers. Just Live a Little also focused on exports and gained traction worldwide especially in Asian markets including Hong Kong, Malaysia and Korea. The company was also successful in France, Germany and Scandinavia.

The Just Live a Little range includes healthier granolas such as whole almond granola, low sugar Coconut and chia granola, and Bramley apple and cinnamon.

Michael adds that the deal will enable Kestrel Foods to offer delicious and healthier crafted products across more categories, and it “signals the business’s ongoing commitment to becoming an innovative leader in the plant-based snacking market”.

Established in 1998, Kestrel Foods has seen impressive and consistent annual sales from adapting to changing markets, and pioneering innovative products, processes, and technology. Many of its products have won international recognition including UK Great Taste Awards.

Kestrel has also recently invested £2.8 million in its world-class manufacturing and new product development facility, which now employs 80 people in Craigavon. It has created separate units for the development and manufacturing of the ACTI-SNACK products and its own chocolate coating plant.

Kestrel’s own flagship brand, Forest Feast, has fared extremely well throughout the coronavirus pandemic with retail sales up a thoroughly impressive 26 percent year-on-year. Respected for its high quality, crafted snacks that are both tasty and healthier, Forest Feast has recently successfully launched ranges of slow roasted and seasoned nuts, Belgian chocolate coated nuts and chocolate coated dried fruit.

The family run business is now at the forefront of the market for premium dried fruits, nuts, seeds, snacks and granolas. The multi-award-winning business handcrafts everything onsite in Co Armagh base, exporting to 26 countries worldwide.

Kestrel Foods has a strong branded portfolio which includes Forest Feast and ACTI-SNACK and a customer base which includes retail, foodservice, e-commerce and travel retail.

They are essentially premium brands in which the company competes on quality, wholesomeness and nutritious snacks for key markets. What also helps the business stay ahead in intensely competitive global markets is the strength of its commitment to new product development and its speed of reaction to market trends and opportunities in the burgeoning healthy snacking category.

A strong exercise brand, ACTI-SNACK, for example, captured the imagination of fitness fans by offering ‘energy on the go’ through healthy mixed fruit, nut and seed snacks in convenient and re-sealable packs. The entire range is gluten free, free from artificial additives and preservatives and designed to meet a variety of sports nutrition requirements.

Growing global success has also been recognised in major industry awards including being named as one of Ireland’s ‘Best Managed’ companies in the Deloitte Best Managed Companies Awards Programme. The small business is committed to working with suppliers who share their vision and values for sustainable supply.

It has a 25-year relationship with the PREDA Fair Trade foundation, based in the Philippines, and has contributed to building a sustainable future for the communities there from which it sources a range of natural ingredients.