The apprentice graduates

Roisin Hogan

Fresh from the baptism of fire that is the BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’, Irish contestant Roisin Hogan tells Gillian Hamill why she’s not feeling dejected after missing out on a chance to become Lord Alan Sugar’s business partner. Instead she’s now teamed up with Nature’s Best to launch her new Konjac noodles range and is raring to go



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11 February 2015

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AT A GLANCE: Nudels by Roisin

  • Nudels by Roisin is a chilled, flavour-infused noodle and soup range
  • The range which will be available by late March/early April will be produced by Nature’s Best in Drogheda
  • At less than 150 calories and virtually carbohydrate free, Hogan believes the brand offers something new to the market
  • Using Konjac noodles as the main component means carbohydrates, and their associated high calories, are eliminated without comprising on taste and satisfaction
  • Coupled with the addition of fresh vegetables and tasty recipes, the consumer can enjoy the indulgence of a take-away without any of the guilt

After reaching the nail-biting ‘interviews week’ of the hit BBC One show ‘The Apprentice’, it was a bittersweet moment when Irish contestant Roisin Hogan left the programme just before the final task. The ultimate grand battle saw Australian contestant Mark Wright secure both Lord Alan Sugar as his business partner and funding to the tune of £250,000.

But far from being downbeat about hearing the infamous phrase ‘You’re fired!’ hurled in her direction, Hogan is confident she has now secured a partner who is much better fit for her business needs. The former Ernst & Young accountant has teamed up with Paddy Callaghan, the founder of Nature’s Best in Drogheda, a leading producer of fresh, vegetable-based convenience products.

Filling a gap in the market

Together they aim to launch the ‘Nudels by Roisin’ range by late March, early April at the latest. Made using Konjac noodles as their main component, Nudels by Roisin is a noodle and soup range that strives to change consumers’ thoughts on healthy eating. At less than 150 calories and virtually carbohydrate free, Hogan believes her range fills a genuine gap in the market.

“We haven’t committed to anything just yet, but there’s a real buzz about it, everybody’s interested which is brilliant.”

After quitting smoking in 2013, she was anxious to find healthy, convenient meal options that would help her avoid gaining weight. As a busy young professional at Ernst & Young, a role she worked in for seven years and “really loved”, time was a valuable commodity. “In the type of life I was leading, it was 12, 14 hour days, so in giving up smoking, I didn’t want to put on weight that can be associated with quitting, [and] replacing smoking with snacks. I started to open my eyes to what was on the supermarket shelves and I started looking for food that was convenient but also healthy and I wanted to follow a low carbohydrate lifestyle as well. When I was going into a supermarket at 10 o’clock at night on a Tuesday evening, it was so hard to resist temptation first of all, but secondly, it’s so hard to think of something, to think of recipes or options in a convenient format. So I [thought] this is unacceptable, I have to go out and find something, there has to be something out there. I came across these great noodles which are only seven calories per 100g and virtually carbohydrate free.”

Hogan is clearly a Konjac convert. “They’re incredible,” she says. “I started working with them to find out what flavours worked best with them, what cooking temperatures are the best, what meats and vegetables work with them, and that’s where the whole concept came from.”

Deciding to go for it

Nature's Best in Drogheda has teamed up with Roisin Hogan to produce and distribute the new Nudels by Roisin rangeNaturally however, leaving a position at a major firm such as Ernst & Young to pursue her idea further, was a big decision for Hogan. As she explains: “I had given up my job a month before I applied [for the show, but] I didn’t think I was going to apply; I didn’t even know about it. I’d given up my job because I had done a feasibility study; I’d done a lot of work on the product and it came to the point where accountancy was taking up too much of my time, or the product was taking up too much of my time, I couldn’t do both. My husband and I sat down and we had crunched the numbers and we had a long talk about it and we decided ok, let’s go for it.” By chance, Hogan happened to see an ad on BBC One looking for contestants to apply for the popular programme and decided: “This is perfect!”

While some contestants may have been more concerned about gaining prime time TV exposure, it was clear from Hogan’s thoroughly prepared business plan that her proposal was no mere pipedream. This made it all the more surprising when the show’s leading candidate-griller at the interviews stage, namely one Claude Littner, head of the IT company, Viglen, appeared to have found a glaring hole in her plan. As fans of the show will no doubt vividly remember, he queried why Hogan claimed her Konjac noodles convenience product was unique, when he at that very moment, could produce a rival Konjac ready meal range at his desk. Fortunately the former accountant is now able to laugh this brutal experience off – helped by the fact that her so called competitor isn’t actually even available in the UK or Ireland – only online in certain parts of France. “Oh my goodness! My face says it all,” exclaims Roisin. “That was a total face drop moment but of course afterwards, I thought ‘how?’ Because my business plan, Alan Sugar called it like ‘War and Peace’, it was so comprehensive. I thought, ‘how did I miss that?’  But it is actually an obscure product, available online in tiny pockets of France.”

Although she was none too enamoured with her rival being conjured up at such a high-pressure moment, Hogan says the discovery has actually served a positive purpose in the long run. “It made me realise you don’t have to be the only person in the market,” she says. “I just want to be the best and at the moment, it’s a really unique offering and I hope people will really like it.”

Infusions of flavour

What’s more, careful consideration has gone into deciding on the right flavour combinations for the range. “This has been a long, long process and we still have further market testing to do but we decided we really wanted to launch a smaller, more streamlined range in order to introduce the product,” explains Hogan. “Our three flavours, they’re actually quite popular flavours in Ireland and the UK, they’re eastern flavours. There’s sesame and chilli, there’s soy ginger and honey and then there’s a chicken ramen noodle soup so they’re all Asian influenced to complement the noodles but they are also very accessible flavours which we would all use in our day-to-day cooking in stir-fries here at home.”

A fan of spices, Hogan has had to be careful not to alienate more conservative palates by making her dishes too hot to handle. “They’re not too spicy,” she says. “That’s something that I’m learning because I love spice and when we’re doing tastings, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just right’ and then I have to say, ‘No that’s not just right, I need to cut it in half and then that’s just right!’”

Route to market

At the moment, she is flexible about the best route to market for her range. “Because we haven’t finalised the product, we haven’t agreed anything [about listings] with anyone just yet, we haven’t committed to anything just yet, but there’s a real buzz about it, everybody’s interested which is brilliant. As soon as we’ve finalised everything, we’re going to meet with everyone, bring everyone samples and what I really want, as this is my baby, I just want to bring this to market in the best way possible, be it with one of the retailers or all of the retailers.”

Going forwards, consumer feedback will be crucial for Hogan in developing her range further. “What Paddy and I really want to do is get the product spot on and then we want to start off small and trial it in a few small key stores and I really want to get feedback from people. We have done focus groups but I really want to get feedback from the public and incorporate that into the product so I plan on being in stores, I plan on pounding the pavements and talking to people about it and really understanding if there’s any change that needs to be made. And then we want to grow organically as demand increases; we don’t want to have a scattergun approach.”

International goals

In five/ten years’ time, Hogan says she has international ambitions. “I would really love to grow this business into an international business,” she says. “We have some really lovely new products in the pipeline as well. I think there is huge potential for multiple ranges of products under our umbrella, and I really want to explore and get inspiration from abroad. I want to have projects like ‘the ten day challenge’ where if people have a wedding or a holiday coming up, they can take the ten day challenge. They can do it with me, I’ll be doing it on Twitter and I want to hear that it works for people; that people like it and that they enjoy it.”

The entrepreneur concedes that The Apprentice has granted her an “incredible” platform in terms of publicity, whereas previously she was “anonymous” – with guest slots on The Late, Late Show and The Saturday Night Show, just two of the media opportunities that have since opened up to her. However she actually regards herself as “lucky” that she didn’t end up as Lord Sugar’s ‘chosen one’. “I know this sounds crazy but I am so, so lucky because it has worked out beyond what I could have dreamed of. Not only do I have a great start-up that’s really well funded and hopefully really well run by me but I have an amazing business partner in Paddy who has a myriad of experience, owns a huge production facility, has a distribution network, knows everybody there is to know, and is so well respected within the industry. I couldn’t have done that over in the UK if Alan Sugar was my business partner. So I am so grateful to Alan Sugar and The Apprentice for everything that it has done for me; I am in such a great position and I am so lucky.” Considering that this is the woman who once negotiated the purchase of a diamond in the annual buyer’s task – for a bargain basement sum of just £50 – we’re convinced Hogan’s current good fortune is down to a lot more than just luck. But she simply jokes in her characteristically modest fashion: “I hope it’s a negotiation I can repeat!”




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