Coelies launches gluten-free range of sandwiches
Caroline Lynch in Strabane has created an enterprising small company specialising in a tasty and quality option for coeliacs seeking gluten-free sandwiches to enjoy on- the-go.
A registered child minder, Caroline, a coeliac for over a decade, had always found difficulty in sourcing a supply of wholesome and delicious sandwiches which were gluten-free in shops and cafes in the area. So, she decided to start making her own for outside catering and then to retail her delicious creations when family and friends loved them.
“It was so frustrating not being able to find the type and quality of sandwiches I wanted in Strabane and neighbouring areas. I’ve looked everywhere for gluten-free grab and go snacks for years,” explains Caroline. “What made it possible for me to make my own was the excellent gluten-free bread from Gallagher’s Bakehouse just over the border at Ardara in Donegal.
Friends, including some who are also coeliacs, encouraged me to push ahead with developing them in a small enterprise,” she adds. She named her new business idea Coelies.
Caroline then set out to set up a small business for the production of a range of sandwiches and was advised and assisted by staff at Strabane Enterprise Centre to approach food experts at Foodovation at the Business Support Centre in the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry.
The challenge Caroline set the technical experts there was the best way to enable her to upskill production of “a range of gluten-free sandwiches for the retail and food service sector with four filling options”. Six fillings were developed by Caroline including: chicken salad; tuna and sweetcorn; egg and onion; traditional ham; chicken mayonnaise; and chicken stuffing.
Foodovation helped the start-up entrepreneur to access experienced support through the InnovateUs programme which is funded by the Department for the Economy.
InnovateUs is a fully funded skills development programme which offers a unique, tailored training solution for small businesses like Coelies. Funded by the Department for the Economy, the programme's aim is to deliver bespoke training solutions that encourage and enable a small business to bring an idea to the market through new product, service or process development.
In particular, the focus of the programme is to enable small businesses, with fewer than 50 employees, to get the skills to engage in innovation activities across the business. It also aims to promote progression in this area and enable businesses to undertake additional and further forms of innovation, which will contribute to their growth and the successful development of the small business.
InnovateUs provides between 10-60 hours of fully funded training to companies with fewer than 50 employees. A member of the Business Development team will meet with you to discuss your company’s needs and complete a short skills audit. A bespoke training plan will then be created and delivered to your employees.
NWRC Product Development Technical Consultant, Rita O’Kane, helped Caroline with upskilling support in recipe standardisation and development, ingredient and packaging sourcing, production upscale particularly in gluten-free operations, prepack labelling including nutritional and allergens including gluten-free claims.
On completion of the project, the company has created a range of gluten-free sandwiches which are now supplied to local convenience shops in Strabane.
Caroline, describing the benefits of working with NWRC’s Business Support Centre, says ‘’The support I received from Rita O’Kane at Foodovation has enabled me to confidently launch my new venture into the retail market to enable coeliacs like myself to access gluten-free sandwiches in the food to go sector across Northern Ireland and into Donegal. The knowledge and guidance provided on gluten-free legislation and requirements as well as labelling and packaging support has been excellent, and I would encourage any small businesses to harness the skills programmes offered by NWRC.’’
The Foodovation Centre at the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry is now recognised as a hub of excellence for food development and technology. It’s an organisation with a lengthy track record of making positive things happen for ambitious enterprises.