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Featured Business: Good4U
Name: Bernie Butler, MD, Good4U
Since: 2004, Sprouted Seed; 2005, Good4U brand; 2013, Good4U (Ireland)
Do you really know what foods are good for you? When Bernie Butler, a foodie, stumbled upon the concept of sprouted seeds she knew she couldn’t resist the temptation to go back into the food industry. She had never come across anything like it.
The health attributes, functionality, versatility and sheer simplicity of sprouts appealed to the entrepreneur, who was known for staying ahead of trends.
Market research, she says, was key in determining the market potential. After carrying out a feasibility study with daughter Michelle, the Good4U story began and since 2004 the sprouts facility has been based in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
The Butlers have been in the food business for over 30 years – the family built a state-of-the art salad and dessert plant in Sligo in the late 1990s. After six years’ hard graft they sold the business to Kerry Foods.
In 2013, with Good4U growing at pace, expansion plans were required. Successful negotiations with Kerry Foods to buy back the factory concluded in 2014. Dedicated to the production of seed-based snacks and ingredients, it is the company HQ and the creative home of Good4U.
A €1 million investment brought the factory up to the desired standard, which is approved by Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Tesco for own-label production.
The business remains a family one, with Bernie’s husband Paul coming back from retirement since the recent investment in Sligo.
Dietician Michelle, who carried out the original feasibility study, is now involved in product development. Laura, head of sales and marketing despite originally having other career intentions, has been happily working with the company since she graduated. Karol, an accountant who had worked with Kerry Foods, joined the business on his return from a stint travelling.
The company is strategic about which markets it needs to be in straight away, and has a longer-term plan for other markets. Outside of the UK and Ireland it sells into Russia, has launched in France and will be in the UAE by the end of 2015. There’s also significant interest from Scandinavian countries.
Interview with Bernie Butler
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
In the first instance I am a foodie, I’m passionate about food. My favourite time is around the table sharing meals with my family and friends. When I was introduced to sprouts it was completely new to me. It was new and innovative, and it totally inspired me because of its genuine food value.
How did you initially fund your business?
From our personal resources.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Sprouts is a relatively new phenomenon. There were quite a few challenges in the early days in terms of getting business and buy-in from customers. The business reacted to this by introducing complementary products that the consumer would more readily identify with roasted seed mixes, including sunflower and pumpkin seed mixes. These products are of equal importance to the business today.
What have been the highlights to date?
- Seeing our product on the retailer shelves across the UK and Ireland.
- Winning the Top New Product award in Sainsbury’s for our Super Sprouts. That was such a highlight, and demonstrated real buy-in from our customers.
- We’re market leaders for sprout seeds in the UK and Ireland.
- Launching our new Super Seed snacks in France in May 2015.
- The overwhelming interest for our products at Marketplace International 2015 and the excellent leads and new business secured on the day.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
Encouraging my wonderful family to come into the business. Buying back the factory that we sold in 2001, investing €1 million+ in it in June 2014. That’s commitment. It’s an approved M&S and Tesco site – finished to a very high spec from a food manufacturing perspective – so it does open doors.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Having control over your destiny and seeing your vision come to fruition.
Being able to make decisions quickly. There are very capable and talented people working in big companies who come up with wonderful ideas but are not in a position to do anything about it.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
With great difficulty; we are extremely busy. It is quite difficult when you’re running a family business, there is no way around it, the buck stops with you. Therefore, getting the work life balance can be challenging. However, I absolutely love spending time with my two grandchildren and cycling the highways and byways of Sligo with my husband Paul. If I can get away on holidays, we usually cycle with friends and have the odd glass of vino on the way. It’s my favourite thing to do.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
Michael O’Leary. I always have been. I’m hugely inspired by him. He has get up and go and has made a lot of things happen and continues to do so. He has helped us achieve so much by making travel affordable and access to our main market achievable. If I could mirror what he has done, I would be a very happy person.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
We are in the food business, therefore all our customers expect to see continuous improvement in quality systems. Investing in new technologies and equipment – that allows us to innovate and get better efficiencies; better costs in our business is another one.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Our customers are at the heart of everything we do. When we are considering new product development, we carry out very detailed consumer and market analysis to establish suitability and demand.
We continuously invest in qualitative and quantitative research, from focus groups to surveys. Listening constantly to your consumer is integral to the success or otherwise of a new product. We work closely with Bord Bia; they are essential to our business and offer real and meaningful research and other supports, which have greatly helped us to accelerate our routes to market. We’re very active on Twitter and Facebook so we reach out to our customers as much as we possibly can in terms of “Are we doing a good job?” We’re very fortunate today to have social media; you have access to your customers.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
In 2011 there was an E. coli outbreak in Germany, which we were not linked to in any way. Unfortunately the industry was unregulated and the food standard agencies around the world took action and, in an effort to deal with the crisis, pulled down the shutters on the entire industry. At that time we were on a crest of a wave; sprouts were on all UK retailers’ radar and Good4U sprouts were performing well. Every cloud does have a sliver lining and post the outbreak the industry emerged safer and in a better place. It helped the industry in so far as people had to step up and introduce protocols that guarantee safety. In the long run our sprouts were off sale for four months. The timing was horrific. We had just secured new business in the UK, and were coming into our busiest season. We had protocols in place that were approved. Luckily for us, the enforcement authorities recognised Good4U as a quality producer of Sprouts with an exceptional quality management system history and track record. When we came back into business, we came back much stronger and there was immediate consumer buy-in.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I think managing people, leading them and bringing them with us as a company. I’m also a problem solver; I work my way through problems and endeavour to find a solution every time.
How did you scale/grow your business?
We slowly invested in research and the team over the past 10 years. The big investment came when we were presented with an opportunity with a customer in the UK and we didn’t have the capacity at the site in Northern Ireland. We knew then we were going to make a decision, and this is how we were going to expand our business. In January 2013, we evaluated a number of locations in terms of expansion and Sligo came out on top in terms of capacity; it would give us the capacity to grow over 10 years. We had it up and running by May 2013.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
We try and stay ahead by knowing today what consumers want tomorrow. That’s the only way we can compete, because we are a small player in the grand scheme of things from a snack perspective. When the customer looks to us, they look for innovation. We’re constantly in the UK and other markets and we are constantly looking to innovate. All our recipe creation is done in house. We look very much to the markets, research and trends.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
Firstly, my family and I would have to say getting a return on our investment – not just our financial investment but all the years of hard work that’s gone in.
What’s your vision for the future?
We’re facing a global obesity epidemic at the moment. Some of the statistics are horrifying. From our perspective, we’re ethical and try to be sustainable in every element of our business. We have a vision; that is to be genuinely part of a changed world by giving consumers healthy food products that enable them to live a more sustainable food lifestyle.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Do your research, that’s the most important thing when you’re starting a business. Have a goal and a roadmap to get there. Be prepared to change direction, constantly challenge and risk assess.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Seek advice. There is plenty of it out there today. The state agencies are very much in touch with what is required. I’m not saying they weren’t in the past, but they are more aware of what’s essential in growing a business. It does help to remove some of the problems and risks associated with going into business. Sometimes entrepreneurs think they need to have all the answers; they don’t.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
“Do not wait to strike til the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking” – WB Yeats. I love Yeats.
For me, it comes back to the innovation. Don’t be waiting for someone else to do it for you, get out there and make it happen for yourself.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I would look to the export markets from the get go. We were familiar with the domestic market and focused a lot of our energy here. When we entered the UK, we were surprised at how accessible it was.
Phone: +353 71 9180031
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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