My journey through the Food Academy Programme and ending up on the Supervalu shelves
by Una Wycherley
I have been farming and growing for many years working and learning from some of whom I regard so highly in this profession, and I am very grateful for their influences and advice along the way.
Starting out with Elaine Mc Keogh Good&Green Killaloe gave me the first insight into growing for a supermarket. This was back in 2013 If my memory serves me right and she was producing top quality leaves for Supervalu Killaloe at the time. While the work and commitment was big I could see that there was a nice business model there to supply a super market and that a consistent income could be generated through it.
Fast forward a number of years and lots of other work experiences & the OGI apprenticeship and I was again thinking Supermarkets and salad production.
I joined the salad production course that was ran by Nots in 2018 and taught by two wizards Jim Cronin and Rory Mcgorrian. Doing the summer and autumn salad production course with them gave me a definite plan of action. I came away from their courses with a really good sense of numbers. What I needed to produce and what average numbers of bags I could turn In to cash in an average Supervalu.
I also learned about good commercial varieties and successional growing.
If you commit to supermarkets you can’t really turn up one week and say sorry I didn’t plant enough so it’s going to be 6/8 weeks again before you’ll see me, they just won’t keep you on as a stockist.
I learned about fertility and rotation, these are really big things when you’re going to focus deeply on one crop so that you don’t end up with disease or crop failures along the way.
All that under my belt and then I knew I needed to focus on how to get in the door to a Supervalu and what I needed in place to do that other than the heads of lettuce themselves.
Mainly from listening to Rory’s experience with the Food Academy programme I felt this was the way to go and was fortunate to be accepted on to it in October 2019.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Food Academy programme it’s to help develop Ireland’s artisan food industry, the Local Enterprise Offices, SuperValu and Bord Bia joined forces in 2013 to create ‘Food Academy’ – a tailored programme for early to mid-stage food business owners.
Food Academy is a training programme aimed at supporting and nurturing start-up food businesses. The Local Enterprise Offices joined forces with Bord Bía and SuperValu on this initiative to provide a consistent level of food marketing knowledge to new and early-stage food business owners.
At the final workshop, participants get the opportunity to present their product to a panel from SuperValu and if successful, can participate in a trial based in local shops, which in the right circumstances, could progress over time to a national listing with SuperValu. There is no guarantee of your product being listed as part of the programme but fulfilling all the measures along the way and having procured interest from local Supervalu’s in advance gives you a good chance of getting a listing.
This may not be everyone’s experience but for me and were now in Supervalu since May 2020 I have found that by doing the Food academy programme it really directed me and helped me stay focused on getting my labels designed to a standard I was really happy with, I developed a brand that now spans across the whole business including field veg, I got my packaging in order, I got a website developed, it gave me an immediate lead into the Supervalu stores which were in proximity to the farm. It gave me leverage to be able to get small business loans at the time to make investments into polytunnels etc and to make the business viable. I was able to go into the bank with a set of figures and projections based on sales I was pretty confident I would make.
The direction and focus that it leads you on in a way forces you to look at all aspects of production and especially with a focus on business. I think that was always a challenge I had I loved farming and growing could work all day in the tunnels etc. but turning that into something that would provide a healthy living and by that I’m also referring to having a bank card that doesn’t get rejected on every swipe is another thing !!.
So far I feel like we’re getting there, we still have investments to make and improvements to how were doing things but I can only say very positive things about my journey so far and where we are right now heading in to a very busy and hopefully very productive summer ahead.
Larkin’s Hill Farm.