Dublin woman Sarah Kiely made her career in marketing, so establishing any business, not to mind a food business, was far from her mind. Then, like it so often does, fate intervened and without warning Sarah was made redundant and lost her job.
“It was a massive shock. My partner and I had been looking for a mortgage so that wasn’t going to happen. But I suppose looking back, I had become disenchanted with work and was thinking of changing jobs, but I wasn’t thinking of starting a business.”
But that saying, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, certainly applied to Sarah. “I had been making bone broth to help with digestive issues and it made me feel so much better. I was talking to my parents about it and they reminded me that I had been reared on it as my grandmother made broths all the time.
“That was a light-bulb moment as it reminded me that this was a tried-and-tested way to eat. It’s about the bones and the not-so-glamorous cuts of meat and how with slow cooking you get all this flavour and nutrition from them. Everyone knows the value of these broths but no one has the time to make them anymore.”
Home was where Sarah developed a love and understanding of cooking.
“It was bred into me,” she says. “My mum Rita had five children close in age so our house was always busy and buzzing and full of food. She showed us how to cook as kids. She made our baby food from scratch. It was just what she knew. As kids we never ate anything that was frozen or pre-packed. My mam really enjoyed cooking and I saw cooking as a relaxing thing I never thought of making dinners as stressful drudgery.”
A new road
Sarah lost her job in the summer of 2015 and, instead of looking for another, thought she’d explore her bone broth idea.
She knew freelancing would give her bread and butter money to live on. And she wanted to explore her idea before children and a mortgage arrived. So, with the support of her partner, she planned to give it six months and if it didn’t work go looking for a job. So no pressure then.
Sarah was flat out working with butcher shops, health food stores, online sales and grocers, so she outsourced making the bone broth to a trusted manufacturer
She didn’t waste time. That summer she started developing her product and brand, located a commercial kitchen, did all her training and in the summer of 2016 launched her Comforting Chicken Bone Broth into SuperValu where she received good mentorship and shelf space.
Sarah was flat out working with butcher shops, health food stores, online sales and grocers, so she outsourced making the bone broth to a trusted manufacturer. That way she could concentrate on all the other aspects of the business. All this was done within 11 months of being made redundant.
Unique selling point
But a good idea is not the only thing you need to establish a business, says Sarah. “If you are going to bring something out, it better be good and it better solve an issue for people. That was part of our magic formula. I knew very few people, even passionate foodies, who would make bone broth at home. They might make a chicken stock for a risotto once in a blue moon but that’s the height of it. People just don’t have the time.”
We were in 100 stores including Dunnes, so I was in a strong position going into the Dragons Den, with a good brand and decent sales figures behind me
What also mattered to Sarah was a strong provenance for her broth – being Irish and free-range mattered. Sarah braved Dragons Den in April 2017 and succeeded in having Alison Cowzer invest €50,000 for 20% of the business.
“We were in 100 stores including Dunnes, so I was in a strong position going into the Dragons Den, with a good brand and decent sales figures behind me. I partnered up with Alison and she is still involved. She’s been a really good mentor and I enjoy working with her.”
Sarah also received support from Enterprise Ireland and is considering applying for the High Potential Start-up fund while plans for further investment are in train.
Key developments since 2017 include being listed in 300 stores, expanding the range to include the Super 7 Greens, made with seven different green vegetables, flax and Irish chicken bone broth. She had a successful launch of the Grow with Aldi programme and has small listings in the UK including Selfridges. She’s now looking beyond the UK to northern Europe in order to Brexit-proof the business.
“We’ve expanded food service, are a brand partner with Freshly Chopped, work with a number of cafes and we are working on exciting things in food service. That’s been an exciting side of the business as we are doing something unusual in that we are branding food service, which not a lot of people do.”
Courage and hard work needed
But while success tastes sweet, the journey to building a solid brand has been tough.
“It’s so hard. I have friends who started around the same time and they have closed their doors. You get to a point with a small business where you can’t scale it anymore. It’s a compromise on your time, on your quality of life.
“You are not making the same money as your friends. You are taking hits on personal aspects of your life. You sacrifice a lot but belief in what you are doing and the wins along the way are very encouraging.”
Most entrepreneurs have a clear idea of what they want to do but they must convince the world that their product or service deserves a place in it
She says start-ups need to be realistic, well researched, focused and goal led. You need to have access to good advice and lean on the supports that are there. Even with all this you have to go with your gut instinct.
“Most entrepreneurs have a clear idea of what they want to do but they must convince the world that their product or service deserves a place in it. Enter competitions and do courses, they will help keep you on track.
“From a self-preservation view, you need to budget for yourself both financially and mentally. I just jumped into it but if you can do it on the side for the first year. Mentally you don’t budget for the isolation and financial pressure of a start-up.”
But despite all the drawbacks, Sarah wouldn’t change a thing. Her ambition is to make her broths the broth brand of Ireland and with Ireland conquered, the world is waiting.