One of the toughest of all startup sectors to crack is the food sector.
Yvonne Dolan and her son Shane are the founders of Blendi, a product that allows people to make smoothies in seconds and ‘on-the-go’. This is their story.
Sowing the seed
I have been an entrepreneur since the age of 19.
I started the first corporate Christmas hamper company Interhamper and ran it for 17 years. I had three other businesses, including one in Croatia.
I returned to Ireland three years ago and went back to college to reskill. My son Shane (now aged 14) would on occasion depend on a Pot Noodle to tie him over until I returned on my late afternoons from college. I began looking into developing a healthier version of Pot Noodles which led me to research the whole space of rehydrated and dried foods.
“Mom if you are making healthy food for kids – they have to love the taste.”
The Eureka moment
It was on a visit to an exhibition in London called ‘Food Matters’ – (a great show for those looking at the health and wellness space) – that Shane discovered this great product of frozen fruit and veg in a single serving pouch. It tasted great. His words to me were ‘Mom if you are making healthy food for kids they have to love the taste.’ I then wondered would dried fruit and veg make a tasty smoothie? That’s how Blendi was born.
Supports to start
Blendi has availed of the Innovation Vouchers and CSF Funding. Innovation Vouchers allow a startup to collaborate with industry or Universities in helping in new product development. CSF is more advanced it would help to find a product in the marketplace.
Coming up with the recipes was the hardest part, sorry “is” the hardest part, we are still not there yet. I don’t believe any inventor is ever 100% happy with what they have created. They always want to improve. We are now looking at collaborating with industry and currently seeking a food company to help us develop the flavour balance of the ingredients.
“When it came to the best new food concept for 2018, they gave the prize to Blendi.”
Getting listed in shops
When we started, we wanted just to sell online. However, we needed to build up brand awareness and were forced to look at retail which opens up layers of complexities. Fortunately, after winning various awards, retailers started contacting us which made it easier to manage
Juices on the move
It was six months into the project when we introduced the Blendi Smart (a portable blender) which you can plug into your smartphone and make a Blendi anywhere. This was a game changer not only for us but for the consumer. We are the first company in the world to offer smoothies and juices on the move.
“There are 50 tough days to every really successful day.”
We were shortlisted at the World Food Innovation Awards in London. We got a call to say Shane and myself were invited to the award ceremony, and when it came to the best new food concept for 2018, they gave the prize to Blendi. To date, we have won two global awards and two Irish awards.
“Get on a plane and visit exhibitions.”
The tough times
I have worked it out that there are 50 tough days to every really successful day (just joking). It is very, very tough, but those promising days are too good not to chase.
My advice to food startups
Get on a plane and visit exhibitions. This gives you an excellent feel for what is trending and also it gives you great ideas about how to grow a food brand.