Bricks-and-mor­tar store is right fit for young en­trepreneurs’ healthy food startup

Irish Independent - Business Week - - Interview - Louise Kelly

AN on­line Ir­ish health food store set up by two young en­trepreneurs is open­ing its first bricks-and-mor­tar store as de­mand for its pro­duce has soared.

Eve­lyn Gar­land (24) and Luke Judge (26) es­tab­lished Sim­ply Fit Food (SFF) in Jan­uary 2016, de­liv­er­ing healthy meals and snacks us­ing lo­cally-sourced in­gre­di­ents right to cus­tomers’ doors.

In their first year, the com­pany made over 18,000 meals and “a count­less num­ber of snacks” as it fought for a place in the some­what sat­u­rated health food mar­ket.

Now, in re­sponse to cus­tomer de­mand for on­the-ground ac­cess to their meals, the first SFF store will be open­ing its doors in Drogheda, Co Louth.

“We started out in Ardee Busi­ness Park in a smaller kitchen, but we moved premises to a far big­ger fa­cil­ity in Duleek at the end of May,” Gar­land told the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent.

“Our on­line pres­ence was al­ready es­tab­lished, and it’s still our baby, but we’ve got­ten so much feed­back and re­quests on so­cial me­dia for a phys­i­cal shop. The lo­cal area knew our story and was re­ally be­hind us.”

As with most star­tups, the first 12 months for the busi­ness duo weren’t easy – de­spite fi­nan­cial back­ing from the Louth Lo­cal En­ter­prise

Of­fice – and the leap of faith into the busi­ness wasn’t a de­ci­sion they made lightly.

“For the first few months, it took both of us to work two jobs at once, late nights some­times with only two or three hours sleep, giv­ing up a job that was very well paid.

“But we knew it could work and it’s the best de­ci­sion we ever made.”

With de­grees in health pro­mo­tion and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity from DKIT and food and agribusi­ness man­age­ment at UCD be­hind them, it ac­tu­ally was a health scare that led to the ori­gins of SFF. Judge was di­ag­nosed with a heart con­di­tion called Wolff-Parkin­son-White syn­drome.

The cou­ple were al­ready pas­sion­ate about fit­ness and GAA play­ers for Sk­er­ries Harps and Dread­nots in Clogher­head re­spec­tively, but Luke wanted to change the way he was eat­ing af­ter he had an op­er­a­tion to treat his con­di­tion.

“He­found­meal­pre­pareal pain, and it was also so time­con­sum­ing,” Gar­land said.

“We just wanted to cre­ate sim­ple, nu­tri­tious meals that had all the con­ve­nience of a take­away.”

Af­ter ap­pear­ing on RTÉ’s ‘Dragons’ Den’, the pair im­pressed the TV dragons but walked away with­out fund­ing.

How­ever, the filmed pitch lever­aged the firm’s pro­file and they man­aged to se­cure in­vest­ment from other sources.

In the last 12 months, SFF has won a num­ber of ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing top­ping the Louth county fi­nal of Ire­land’s Best Young En­tre­pre­neur.

They’ve also signed deals to be­come the of­fi­cial nutri­tion part­ners of Louth and Mon­aghan in­ter-county GAA teams.

Get­ting their pro­duce out to a wider mar­ket has also been a suc­cess in re­cent months, as SFF has man­aged to get on the shelves of a num­ber of lo­cal Su­per­Valu stores since April.

“We’re in talks at the mo­ment and are hoping to­ex­pandthatou­tona na­tion­wide level.

“As we’re an on­line brand, we wanted to try re­tail stores on a trial ba­sis to see if that would work for us. Our sales have es­sen­tially tripled since April.”

But now the fo­cus is very much on the new shop, which is set to open on Trin­ity Street next Wed­nes­day.

With the Fleadh Cheoil in Drogheda this year, Gar­land is hoping that the tim­ing of the store’s launch, right in the mid­dle of the mu­sic fes­ti­val, will be suc­cess­ful.

The shop will be open six days a week, sell­ing healthy nu­tri­tious meals, snacks and coffees for the on-the-go consumer.

“We’re hoping to lever­age off the fleadh for the open­ing, and the ad­di­tional foot­fall might help too as we’ll be giv­ing out tasty, healthy treats on the day,” she said.

“We have the lease on the shop un­til Christ­mas and the op­tion to ex­tend that out if we see sales com­ing in.”

Over the next two years, SFF is hoping to ex­pand its prod­uct range, and their mar­ket base in­ter­na­tion­ally. But­the­p­air also want to share their pas­sion for healthy liv­ing – and en­trepreneur­ship – with oth­ers.

“Ideally, we would like to put out a cook­book. Our on­line pres­ence needs to grow­more,but­thei­deasand in­gre­di­ents for our meals are so sim­ple.

“Whatwe­makeon­a­dayto-day ba­sis is what you’d usu­ally have in your fridge and press any­way.

“We­woul­dal­soloveto take part in ed­u­ca­tional talks for the younger gen­er­a­tion, ad­dress­ing school and col­lege kids, ed­u­cat­ing them about healthy eat­ing but also about start­ing up your own busi­ness.

“Al­though we were both in col­lege, and I had a fo­cus on busi­ness, there was no real guid­ance on ac­tu­ally set­ting up a busi­ness.

“We want to share that it can be done at a young age.”

With busi­ness boom­ing, and many more plans on the hori­zon, the GAA-mad pair haven’t been able to com­mit as much train­ing time to their re­spec­tive teams.

But that doesn’t mean that they’ve aban­doned their pas­sion for fit­ness, ac­cord­ing to Gar­land.

“We’ve both had calls from our man­agers ask­ing us when we were go­ing to come back to our re­spec­tive teams prop­erly, but at the mo­ment we just don’t have the time to get to all the ses­sions and that’s not fair on the other play­ers.

“But one of the main things that we’ve tried to keep up is train­ing for at least five days a week.

“There’s noth­ing like go­ing for a run in the rain af­ter a stress­ful day.

“IfI­didn’thavethathour, I’d go mad.”

Eve­lyn Gar­land (24) and Luke Judge (26) of Sim­ply Fit Foods

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