Artisan food production is big business

Mark Muldoon of Kinsale Gourmet

Kinsale Gourmet is amongst a host of new indigenous food companies that have emerged over the past five years. Armed with drive and enthusiasm to create great quality fare using local produce, this new wave of foodies are making the future of the Irish food industry look bright. Fionnuala Carolan speaks to Mark Muldoon of Kinsale Gourmet about his plans for driving footfall in the chilled food aisle



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23 November 2015

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Getting a foothold in the grocery industry for a small food company is no easy task. It takes hard graft, a thorough understanding of the market, top quality ingredients and a bit of luck. Mark Muldoon of Kinsale Gourmet can testify to this as he talks about his journey into the chilled convenience ready meal market. Kinsale Gourmet ready meals have been in existence for a number of years but have just undergone a huge rebrand. Set up originally by

Eoin O’Brien as a frozen ready meal range, the company changed hands last year when Muldoon came aboard. O’Brien’s original business was the running of a state-of-the-art nursing home in Kinsale, Co. Cork well-known for having the best of everything, including its chefs. Muldoon explains: “His chefs were winning awards for their food due to the original concept of putting sea vegetables, like dillisk through their meals. He decided to commercialise that concept so launched a range of frozen gourmet ready meals. He achieved listings with Tesco and Musgraves and also got some export business with British online supermarket, Ocado. He also got to the finals of Entrepreneur of the Year 2013.”

This was a pretty impressive start for a brand, yet in early 2014 O’Brien felt like he had taken the company as far as he could and late last year Muldoon stepped in and decided to drive things in a new direction. While retaining the solid credentials of the brand, he created a build-your own-meal kit that is chilled as opposed to frozen.


Muldoon explains why he decided a complete overhaul of the product was necessary. “We looked at the ready meal market and we spent a good deal of time analysing the shape of that category and it’s very private label dominated, almost 70% own label,” he explains. “We felt if we were going to come out of frozen and into chilled where the footfall is for ready meals, we’d have to do something very different and stand out. We had to look at the brand and think where are we going to fit in in this category and we arrived through a long process with the ready-to-make meal kit.”

“We took four components and put them into individual pots so what you have is a fish pot, a veg pot, a carb pot and a sauce pot. Nothing is masked or hidden. You can see the quality of the product.

You get basic step-by-step instructions on how to cook it. We do the chopping and preparation so all you have to do is go home, heat the pan and follow four simple steps and you have quality as good as a restaurant meal.

“We want people to look at the brand and know it’s clean, as in it’s preservative free, gluten free and it’s good for you. It’s a solution to make people’s lives easier. I think with the economy coming back people will be busier and working harder. They can bring this home and cook it up in six minutes.

The RRP is €6 so it is definitely on the premium end.” There are five different varieties consisting of two salmon, two hake and one prawn dish and the idea is to make fish very accessible to people who are not that confident in cooking fish.

“There is great work being done by the likes of Keohane’s of Bantry and The Saucy Fish Company,” says Muldoon. “We are trying to bring it a step further in that you don’t have to worry about your veg or what sauce you might put with it. We take away the waste. It’s about getting the consumer involved so they feel part of the process.”

A common challenge for the chilled convenience market is the shelf life of a product. On the one hand, you need the product to last so that it will sell but on the other you need the consumer to see that the product is fresh. Muldoon says that the shelf life is about eight/nine days. “There are only six in a case so it lends itself to small orders. People who want to eat this don’t want to see a long date on it. It nearly endears itself to the customer more because it has a short shelf life,” he says.

Frozen versus chilled

Through considerable research, they decided that moving into the chilled aisle would be far more beneficial for the brand in the present market. “Kinsale Gourmet was very much a premium product with a premium price within the frozen category and really those premium customers were shopping in the chilled aisles. It was really the family with the young kids that was getting the fish fingers and frozen veg in the frozen aisle so it was hard for impulse to perform there,” he explains.

From a number of focus groups they identified their key audience as young professionals and empty nesters. This demographic are interested in healthy eating and will pay a premium for something they consider to be of good quality.

“There is a bit of a misnomer about frozen food and a lot of barriers to shopping in the freezer aisle,” he says. “It’s generally situated towards the back of the store so most of the shopping is done by the time they reach it and people want to get in and get out because it’s cold. We felt that even from a positioning in-store, we were missing a trick. There is a lot more positive association with chilled and fresh.

“The strengths that we inherited were the name Kinsale Gourmet and the fact that it was a

premium ready meal and after that it was about taking it apart and putting it back together again,” he explains.


Previously holding a senior role in Dunnes Stores as head of cost control, Muldoon was no doubt taking a gamble leaving a steady, pensionable job to relocate to Kinsale and take over a small food company. If he regrets the decision, the Meath man certainly doesn’t show it and seems to be relishing this new life as part of West Cork’s foodie set. However he credits Dunnes with equipping him with valuable experience and a vast knowledge of the industry.

“I suppose it’s great to have the retail background because you understand what you’re getting into and the challenges that can be faced for a small supplier when you get into a bigger retailer,” he says. “I was in Dunnes Stores for ten years, enjoyed it and learned a lot. I’m very grateful for the experience I got there.”

Reviving the chilled category

Muldoon says that the buyers he has spoken with have been really positive because they feel this new approach to ready meals will do something for the category as the chilled category has stood still for the last number of years. “They need something new to come into the category so we’re not actually looking to take away from the own brand ranges, we are actually going to bring people into the category,” he explains. “There have been a lot of category departures from that department since the horse meat scandal that haven’t come back. If they trust this product, they will shop this aisle again.”

As a testament to the business acumen of the founder Eoin O’Brien, Kinsale Gourmet received a great start in life through its inclusion in both the Tesco Taste Bud programme and the Musgrave Food Academy.

Muldoon explains: “We were on both programmes last year so we are graduates of both. We have found them really helpful and really good for giving direction on critical points. The two guys running them, Ken O’Connor, SuperValu and Andrew Cunningham from Tesco are really helpful and are great for advice. If you’re in a bit of conundrum and don’t know which way to turn, it’s great to have people like them to ring for advice.”

As the name would suggest, the company is based in Kinsale with an additional facility in Ballincollig for some upscale production. There are ten staff at present and they intend on hiring more as the business grows.

Work starts here

Getting a product ready for the market is a big challenge but Muldoon believes that the biggest challenge is keeping up the standards and growing the brand. “There is a lot involved from a regulation point of view and getting yourself listed obviously. I think it’s a bit like Obama getting elected,” he jokes.

“He puts in all this hard work for the campaign but the next thing he has to run the country! All the energy goes into a campaign but then the real work starts. The quality has to stand up. At a price point of €6 no one is going to accept anything less than excellent.”

Muldoon has found the whole experience of operating a food business an eye opener but a very positive experience overall. “Everyone in the industry is really willing to talk to each other. At the artisan level, they are so into their product and interested in helping each other. It’s about a love for the product and it’s great to be part of that because you feed into it and off it and there is a real community about it, especially down in West Cork. It’s a hub for it.”

For more information on Kinsale Gourmet, check out




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