As part of our Smarter Living for Business series, we're bringing businesses simple ideas to make their business better through insights and industry research from some of the country's most influential leaders and thinkers.
This week we sat down with Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson, founders of Cool Beans, to find out how you go from having that initial great idea to delivering your product to consumers.
Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson set up Cool Beans in 2014 after coming up with the idea of producing a healthy and versatile food product that took advantage of the health benefits of beans. In the company’s first year, they were selected for the Food Academy, a four month programme funded by SuperValu and Bord Bia, which teaches new and early-stage food business owners about the food business and helps them to create a commercially viable product.
Their chilled bean pots were initially available in ten SuperValu outlets in Dublin but are now stocked in 105 stores nationwide, and will be on sale in Waitrose outlets in the UK from the 21st October. Below they've outlined their 5 steps to successfully getting your product on the shelves.
Test your product
"We started off in our own kitchens and trialled it with friends and family. After that, we bought a mobile catering unit we called “The Bean Machine” and went around to festivals like Electric Picnic and Body & Soul testing out the product. The great thing about the catering unit was that it allowed us to talk directly to our customers, and get a lot of consumer feedback. And we tweaked it a bit then, for example making it gluten free. Neither of us were coeliac, so it wasn’t something we’d thought of, but it was massive for customers. We also got feedback that sugar was becoming an issue for people, so we took out the sugar and replaced it with honey."
Find a hook
"One of the things we found out from talking to people was that they were really interested in beans and wanted to eat more - but didn’t really know what to do with them. They’re full of protein and dietary fibre, so are really good for your digestive system. Beans are also proven to lower cholesterol as they slowly release energy. People knew they were good for you, but weren’t sure how to prepare them and how to add them to meals. We came up with this concept of “Beaneology”, which is all about educating people about beans and advice on making them a part of your diet."
Get the right partners
"We decided early on that we were going to outsource the production of the product. Our backgrounds are both in business, so we didn’t have food manufacturing knowledge, and would also have had to invest in equipment to make the type of product that we wanted for retail. We drove the length and breadth of the country looking for an outsourced manufacturing partner and decided to partner with a company called Fresh Food Kitchen. They produced a really great quality product, and they were really eager about our plans and bought into the idea of Cool Beans from the very start."
"When we were planning our expansion to the UK market, we identified who we thought was the best kind of retail partner for us. We looked at their demographic, and things like the quality of product they already stocked. And we just stalked the life out of them! I rang up head office and got the contact details for our particular buyer, which was Ready Meals. I sent them an email and they didn’t respond. I sent another email and I got an out of office response, so I sent all the suggested contacts emails, and from one of those I got another out of office. Eventually, we got an email back from someone who said they really loved the idea and they wanted us to come over and meet them. So we went over at the start of September. Now we’re launching on the 21st of October."
Take time to talk
"We’re always incredibly busy, and it would be so easy for us to say we don’t have time for you. But we find the value in taking time to talk to people because we get so much back from them. A few months back, a girl approached us about doing a college project, because she needed a business case study on a particular company. We did a couple of phone interviews with her, and she asked us loads of questions. Afterwards, she came back a few months later and created an international marketing plan for us. And she got a first for it as well!"
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