Spice O’Life is a thriving business that is making a significant contribution to the food industry in west Cork. With over 70 employees, the company is the biggest employer in Dunmanway and, with its soon to be expanded facilities, business partners Tom Kearney and Denis O’Driscoll are eyeing up export opportunities as they plan to further expand their already impressive product range for supermarkets and butchers stores
Spice O’Life Ltd has a diverse manufacturing capability, ranging from dry seasoning blends to liquid sauces, marinades, and dressings, to ready-to-use finished prepared consumer foods. “It is this diverse manufacturing capability that allows us to provide our customers with the right product, in the right form, at the right time and place, to meet the rapidly changing needs of today’s market,” says Tom Kearney. “One of our strengths is our capability to turn projects around in very quick order, from the time we develop a product in our New Product Development Laboratory, to the time we take it to production. This guarantees our customer a distinct competitive advantage over their competitors, in that they are the first to enter the market with a new product. Anyone working in the retail and FMCG sectors knows all about the benefits of being first to market!” Spice O’Life also have the capability to produce own branded products for their customers. “We offer our customers portion control packaging, which assures a consistent pack size, uniform flavour and a quality product each and every time,” says Kearney. “Our products are manufactured by experienced and highly trained professionals who operate to the stringent BRC quality standard.” In fact, they have been awarded the BRC Quality standard for the last five years, attaining a Grade A each time. Food scientist Tom Kearney founded the company in May 2000. He had worked for the Kerry Group for a number of years before moving to Boston, where he worked in a company that carried out custom spice blending. When he returned from Boston, he decided that he wanted to establish his own manufacturing company to create custom sauces, marinades and dressings. Tom initially set up a licensed laboratory and began developing some blends for industrial customers. Co-owner of Spice O’Life, chemist Denis O’Driscoll worked in the pharmaceutical industry for a decade before moving to the seafood sector where he crossed paths with Tom. When he left the seafood sector, Tom invited him to join Spice O’Life in 2005. While Tom’s focus is on new product development, overseeing the work of their four food scientists in the Spice O’Life innovation centre, Denis looks after the sales and financial side of the business.
Insane, but in a good way The Spice O’Life operation is split between industrial customers, supermarket retail, and the butcher stores market. “We started out small and then we branched out into supplying local butchers,” says Denis O’Driscoll. “Our next move was to create a brand specifically for supermarkets, called Insanely Good. This range features pour over sauces – the big one being our pepper sauce – well as pasta and curry sauces, and a range of condiment sauces. “Healthy, tasty, convenient, and gluten-free are all words that came to mind when we went about launching our Insanely Good retail brand across Ireland,” says O’Driscoll. “Our aim was to offer products with all of these attributes so that our customers could feed their family a healthy dinner in under 30 minutes at an affordable price. We started supplying this brand into Dunnes Stores in 2013. That was the beginning of the retail side of the business. We now also supply our Insanely Good range to Musgrave nationwide. We then started supplying product to other retailers and we developed our private label offering for retailers, covering pasta and stir fry sauces, as well as salad dressings, which is now another big part of our business. We currently supply a variety of private label products to Dunnes Stores and a private label sauce to Lidl.”
Increasing production capacity Spice O’Life is currently in the midst of a massive expansion of its production facilities. “This expansion will result in a fivefold increase in our production capacity,” says O’Driscoll. “Our production facility is 3,000 square feet and we also operate a warehouse and a bottling line, but with the expansion we are increasing our entire operation to 40,000 square feet – that will include the addition of a much bigger production facility for both wet products and dry seasonings. “When that is up and running early next year we will be looking at expanding our range and expanding our markets. We want to export to the UK as we see major opportunities for our products in the supermarket retail and butchers market and we have had quite a bit of interest from the butchers market in England and Scotland. However, while we will be eyeing the export market, we also want to grow our reach in the Irish market. This expansion will give us greater capacity to develop more products and o further expand our existing range.” Most of Spice O’Life’s employees are based in Dunmanway, but they also have seven sales staff in the field who are located in Dublin, Antrim and in the west of Ireland. “They supply our Spice O’Life brand that is tailored specifically for butchers,” says O’Driscoll. “That brand encompasses marinades and seasonings, as well as the Spice O’Life brand of retail sauces for butchers. In addition, we supply most of the major seafood companies in Ireland, and some of the beef and poultry companies.”
Key trends Tom Kearney says that Spice O’Life’s innovation centre team is constantly on the lookout for new flavour trends. “With Covid-19, we have witnessed a big shift from consumers eating out to eating at home and shopping local, so we are consequently experiencing a major uplift in the supermarket retail and butchers side of the business,” he says. “I would say that, overall, our business has increased by about 20% over the last six months, and that would also include the product that we supply to our industrial customers.”
Covid-19 Like other manufacturers, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on their operational and production processes. “We adjusted and carried on,” he says. “We were lucky in the sense that we were in the food business, so there is always demand for food, but we had to bring in new rules and regulations, including temperature checks for staff, to safeguard our workers, our company and our customers.” Apart from the increased demand that they have experienced over the past six months, the company has also acquired new customers during the pandemic. “Over the past two months, we established a depot in Galway to service some of our new customers in the butchery trade in that area, and we have also acquired new customers via our sales operation in Dublin and in Antrim.”
Love Irish Food
Given that Ireland imports €8 billion worth of food products, with €4 billion of those products coming from the UK, it has never been more important to highlight local Irish food brands. This allows Irish shoppers to make informed choices and to realise the full extent of the quality produce that is available from locally-produced companies. This has been Love Irish Food’s mission since it was established in 2009 and it is one of the many reasons why Spice O’Life joined Love Irish Food in 2014. “We were approached by them and we were happy to join because of what they stand for – they showcase and promote products manufactured in Ireland to the Irish consumer,” says Kearney. “Being a member of Love Irish Food has been very helpful to the business. We exhibited at Bloom for several years and it proved to be an excellent showcase for our products. It was also an opportunity to meet some of the major supermarket buyers, which was great exposure for Spice O’Life and laid the foundations for new business for the company. Also, having the Love Irish Food logo on our products communicates a very clear message of high quality to the consumer and emphasises the fact that all of our products are Irish-made.” Both Tom and Denis are excited about their success in Love Irish Food’s Brand Development Awards 2019. “We were the runners-up in the LIF Brand Development Awards, which was a pleasant surprise,” he says. “These awards are a recognition of the success of Irish brands and of the Irish market generally, so we were delighted to be a part of it, and we got the opportunity to showcase our company in Checkout magazine!”
The Insanely Good supermarket range
Creamy Pepper Sauce A creamy, rich and robust pepper sauce, made with Spice O’Life’s own Irish dairy cream and alive with cracked black pepper and hints of tomato, beef and onion. Fruity Curry Sauce With only 0.3% saturated fat, Golden Jumbo raisins bursting with flavour, and lots of pineapple pieces make this a healthy low fat curry that can be enjoyed by all the family. Bombay Curry Sauce A lively medium spiced curry containing eight different naturally ground spices. A must have once a week on those cold autumn and winter months to keep winter colds at bay. Tikka Masala Sauce This is a rich sauce made with nine ground spices, Irish dairy cream, West Cork natural yoghurt, Italian peeled plum tomatoes – and some secret ingredients. All products are gluten-free & MSG-free.