In picture are Alison Seaney and Colin Monaghan of Big Pot Company in Cookstown, and Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI Food Director, with a range of the company’s soup products.
The Big Pot Company in Cookstown is being assisted by Invest Northern Ireland to develop a range of soups for markets outside Northern Ireland that are free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, are low in fat and gluten-free.
The company, which is based at the Food Incubation Centre at Loughry campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), is focused on the development of nutritious, healthy and gourmet soups.
Maynard Mawhinney, Invest Northern Ireland Food Director, announced assistance for the company to develop sales to markets, such as the Republic of Ireland, during a recent visit to the business.
Big Pot was formed in April 2009 by Colin Monaghan, an accountant by profession, and food technologist Alison Seaney. It currently produces a range of fresh hand-made soups, sauces and stew in five litre pots for food service customers such as Kerry Foodservice and other deli and coffee shops. Last autumn they also launched five varieties of soup in 500g retail pots focused on fresh nutritious recipes which are listed in most of the independent and convenience stores in Northern Ireland.
With their considerable experience in food processing, Alison and Colin have great plans for the future of the business. The company is now targeting growth through sales to the retail sector in Northern Ireland and the Republic. It has also won business from Dunne’s Stores.
Mr Mawhinney said: “Our assistance will enable this small business to build on the success it has experienced working with Kerry Foodservice and to move quickly on to the next stage of its development. It has proven it can meet the exacting standards of Kerry Foodservice in terms of consistently high quality products delivered on time and to budget.
“The company is targeting its range of soups at a growth sector, premium and healthy products using natural ingredients especially for markets outside Northern Ireland, an opportunity which was pinpointed in the recent Focus on Food strategy document developed by the private and public sectors.
“Our support package has been geared to help the company develop capability in key activities such as marketing and promotion. It has established a production operation with guidance from the expert team at Loughry and is now positioned for growth in the niche markets it has identified as offering the best business opportunities. This project will enable the company to research this market further.
“Our Food Marketing Sector Advisers have also been working with the company and are helping to develop contacts with major retailers in the Republic,” he added.
Alison Seaney recently completed a masters’ in Agri-Food Business Development and her technical expertise and product development flair has ensured products are developed and consistently delivered to exacting standards. Retail soups on offer include Real Vegetable Broth, Cream of Chicken, Potato & Leek, Carrot & Coriander, Tomato and Basil and French Onion.
Alison Seaney said: “We had both been thinking about starting a soup business for some time when Denny’s in Portadown, where we worked, decided to close the factory. We put the idea to Invest NI at a redundancy clinic and were referred to the Food team which helped us to set up in business.
“We also approached Kerry Foodservice with a proposal that we should take over the production of a first stage product, vegetable soup, that Denny’s had produced. Kerry proved to be immensely supportive and the contract enabled us to get the business going using equipment purchased from Denny’s.
“The Food Incubation Centre at Loughry was an important facility to help us to get our processing operation up and running quickly.”