Bernie Butler couldn’t resist returning to food sector entrepreneurship when she became fascinated by the health benefits of sprouted seeds and, after undertaking research, decided to sell them as a healthy snack.
Bernie and her husband Paul had previously founded Platter Foods in Sligo – a salad and dessert manufacturing company which they ultimately sold to Kerry Group – so she knew the demands and rewards involved in running her own company.
Initially, she set up her business, Good4U, in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, in 2004, but they have since expanded with head office now back in Sligo on the site once occupied by her previous company.
“We have two companies under the Good4U brand,” Bernie says. “The one based in Cookstown was the genesis of the whole business. Then, in 2013, we saw an opportunity to come back to Sligo and develop other complementary functional foods.”
They now have a product range of more than 40 health food snacks made from natural ingredients.
The Cookstown operation is a production site while Sligo is head office for admin, product development, marketing and production of the value-added ambient functional ingredients and snacks. A family business, Bernie is the CEO, her daughters Michelle and Laura look after product development and sales and marketing, respectively, while her son Karol is head of the finance department. Combined, the operations have a staff of 37 and a customer base that includes Tesco UK, Waitrose, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Ocado.
Although the Sligo site had been a food plant, it needed considerable investment to meet the standards required by Good4U’s flagship clients. “We had to raise €1 million in joint support from the Western Development Commission, the bank and Enterprise Ireland,” Bernie says.
“In that situation, you need one party to say yes, and then another party will say yes,” she adds. “The WDC were the first to say yes to us, and I think we will be forever grateful to them for that. They were extremely supportive of us.”
Having been through the process of seeking funding for a business in the past, Bernie was impressed with the extent to which the WDC, Enterprise Ireland and the banks had improved their processes. “It was definitely more conducive to supporting and engaging and understanding the business,” she says. “The process was something that I would compliment them on.”
Given the twin challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, Bernie considers Good4U to be extremely fortunate to be a health food company in a market with high demand, but the past 12 months have not been without their difficulties.
Because of their existing high standard of hygiene practices, adapting to the pandemic did not require a huge shift in behaviour. “What did happen is our team here had to go on shift work, so we had to readjust our business and that was very challenging for everybody. We also had some very exciting export market entries in the pipeline and regrettably they were put on hold,” she says.
However, Good4U is starting to see the international export market picking up again and has recently launched an innovative range of three nutrient rich Breakfast Boosts, Immune, Vitamin and Protein. One portion of Good4U’s Immune Boost provides 100 reference intake of vitamin D and 170% vitamin C. Consumer feedback and sales have been very encouraging for the company.