SOMEGA strive to make nutrition easy and enjoyable
Mark Clifford and his wife Paula Gaynor started their food supplement business SOMEGA following their search for good quality supplements for their kids.
Mark and Paula come from food science and nutrition backgrounds and their journey began as students at University College Cork, Ireland. After graduating, the pair worked in a variety of roles in the food and food supplement industries in Europe and the US before returning to Ireland with a dream to bring their vast knowledge to a new brand of health supplement that they felt was needed.
“The challenge for every small business is taking care of the hundred different things we have to take care of, while still trying to develop a strategy for the future. Your long term vision can change through day to day learning”
With more than 30 years of combined knowledge in food science and nutrition the Bandon based couple believe that taking supplements should be easy and enjoyable.
Mark talks to ThinkBusiness about their non-traditional approach to nutrition.
Why did you set up SOMEGA?
Paula and myself were working for a number of years in the food and food supplement industry. We had an interest in nutrition and food and wanted to work for ourselves. The genesis of the company came about at the kitchen table. We had three teenage children and looking at their diets, we realised they weren’t getting enough nutrients. We started looking at supplements and realised they were the same supplements we had grown up with, that didn’t taste nice and mostly ended up at the back of the cupboard. We wanted to create something better.
What makes SOMEGA stand out?
One of the issues that food supplements have is that people start them, take them for a few days or a week and then the interest fades and the jar of capsules is forgotten about. We eat with our eyes, we want things to taste nice and be nutritious. The supplements we produce are liquids, they taste and look nice and can be added into food like smoothies and yoghurts. Our customers get the nutritional part of the supplement in their food. They don’t have to go to one cupboard for food and another for their nutritional supplement.
“As you grow your business, you outgrow some of those supports. If you’re not big enough to export and link in with Enterprise Ireland, you fall somewhere in between”
The other thing we’re really keen on is that our products are made from pure natural ingredients, without additives, unnecessary sweeteners and sugars. We make sure that any nutritional value in the supplement isn’t damaged during manufacture and packaging. We protect the nutrients during formulation and make sure they can be fully absorbed into the body. We’re also very keen on sustainability. The ingredients themselves come from sustainable resources, the packaging is recyclable, there is no harmful environmental impact.
What challenges did you meet and how did you overcome them?
“Expect that something unforeseen will happen and that it will affect what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. In some cases, try to be the black swan – be the person bringing the change to the market”
Covid-19 happened early in the company’s life. Many retailers initially closed to figure out how to operate. We had to find a way to support retailers and talk to our customers directly. We only had one product at that point. Covid-19 spurred us on to make decisions quicker than we had been doing. We accelerated product development and launched four products within four months. Covid-19 led to people looking more at nutrients and supplements. We wanted to make sure we had more products available for our customers, like vitamin D, which before Covid would have been associated with bone health rather than the immune system.
Starting a business, formulating a product and trying to identify market needs can be challenging. The first product we formulated was Omega 3 and we marketed it for kids. When we went to health food shops and started doing tastings and talking to consumers, we realised lots of adults were interested in it. You may think you have all your market research done and that you have the best product ever, but it may need to be adjusted and changed when it is out there.
Our previous experience was in the food industry, where it was mainly B2B. With SOMEGA, a lot of what we do is B2C. There was a lot of learning to do. We did lots of courses to learn more about that aspect of the business. The challenge for every small business is taking care of the hundred different things we have to take care of, while still trying to develop a strategy for the future. Your long term vision can change through day to day learning.
What is the support for entrepreneurs in Ireland like and how could it be improved?
The Local Enterprise Office here in West Cork has been very good. We had access to lots of courses, like marketing and web development and they have vouchers and grants. But as you grow your business, you outgrow some of those supports. If you’re not big enough to export and link in with Enterprise Ireland, you fall somewhere in between. We did a scale programme last year called Scale Cork with the Rubicon Centre but there isn’t a lot of supports for the slightly bigger sized company. It’s not obvious for us where to go next for support.
What lessons have your learnt and what would you pass on to other businesses?
For small businesses, cash flow is king. You need to really manage that and prepare for that. The other thing is to expect the unexpected. Expect that something unforeseen will happen and that it will affect what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. In some cases, try to be the black swan – be the person bringing the change to the market.
“As a small business, you’re so focused on keeping the business alive, it can feel like there isn’t time to talk to people or a mentor, but they’re invaluable”
One thing the LEO was good at was introducing us to mentors. As a small business, you’re so focused on keeping the business alive, it can feel like there isn’t time to talk to people or a mentor, but they’re invaluable. Utilise mentors because it’s great to have another set of eyes looking at the business. They emphasise things you know, but aren’t sure how important they are, as well as open your eyes to something you weren’t aware of.
What is your proudest moment?
Seeing the product go from development to production to seeing it on the shelf is always rewarding. We’re very proud when we get positive responses from our customers. We’re trying to deliver a nutritional and healthy product so it’s really satisfying and humbling when we deliver that for our customers. We’re happy and passionate about what we do and we’re proud that that comes across to everyone we do business with, from vendors to retailers and customers. Our customers can email and call us. We are always happy to talk to them about our supplements and answer any queries they might have about their nutritional value.
What are your plans for the future?
The Irish marker is our core market. We’re still looking at our product line and plan to broaden it to the various health areas that we haven’t focused on yet. We’re in health shops already and are now selling in pharmacies and online. There’s a lot of work to be done to bed ourselves more into those areas. We want to spread our wings into other markets. We have customers in Sweden and we will soon be selling our products on Amazon UK.
Our story began in our own search for good quality supplements for our family and the realisation that there was a real need for a brand that was founded in science by real people who understand the importance of good nutrition and the benefits that can bring to everyday life.