When Deirdre Collins spotted a gap in the fast food market, she came up with a plan to Stores outlets around the country. The burgers, which contained oats, millet, seeds and a variety of herbs and spices, proved a huge hit with the health-conscious women in her office where she worked as a legal secretary, so Collins decided to try them out at a farmers’ market in fill it by giving people the choice to take the healthy option. A native of Co Clare, Collins had a long-standing interest in food and went on to study food science at University College Cork. It was a move that paid off for the 32-year-old former legal secretary, who has just secured a contract to sell her product in 40 DunnesSkibbereen.
The veggie burgers were proving very popular with mothers of children with dairy and wheat allergies, who were at their wits’ end trying to find products in the shops that were dairy or wheat-free while also nutritious and tasty to eat.
Initially, when she went to look for support in starting up her business, she was asked, “Who would eat a burger without meat?” Luckily, she says, her local Enterprise Board was convinced it was a fantastic idea and gave her the help she needed.
Through the board, Collins did an advanced food development programme and learned all about branding, marketing, how to price your product and, importantly, financial planning. Last year, she was granted 50 per cent funding from the South Cork Enterprise Board for capital equipment and she rented a dedicated food unit through Cork County Council’s economic development section.
In March 2008, Collins left her job as a conveyancing legal secretary to devote all of her time to her fledgling business. At this stage, she was selling her burgers at farmers’ markets, agricultural shows and music festivals around the country, but every cent she made was being ploughed back into her overheads. So she set up a catering stall, selling healthy fast food cooked on the spot, which helped bring in cash to drive things forward.
At a retail exposition in the RDS Dublin in 2007, she had compiled a list of about 20 local stores that indicated that they would be willing to take an order once she was ready to go.
Her Dee’s Omega Burger contains a blend of wholegrains, fresh Irish vegetables and super seeds and is 100 per cent organic, vegetarian and gluten-free. She has also developed a spicy bean burger made with aduki beans for her customers who like their food with a bit of a kick.
She got her product into Supervalu through the approved local supplier route, which strengthened her position with the banks and bigger distributors.
In October, she made her first delivery to Dunnes Stores, which was a huge coup for her, and she is also working on the recipe for an organic pinto bean and mushroom burger for the Eddie Rocket’s restaurant chain.