16 Jun 2016 | 02.40 pm
Debbie’s Saucy Startup Bottles Turf Nostalgia
The maker of Kitty O’Byrnes sauces says branding and networking are keys to success
16 Jun 2016 | 02.40 pm
Midlands-born entrepreneur Debbie Ross (pictured) took a roundabout route to her eventual food startup destination. The founder of Kitty O’Byrnes lived in South Africa for many years, before returning to Ireland in 2000.
“Career wise, I worked in the corporate sector while studying psychotherapy, making birthday cakes and performing as a human statue in my spare time. I took extended leave from work in 2010 when my husband and I adopted our son,” says Debbie.
Her startup produces a nostalgically branded selection of sauces and marinades, flavoured with Murphy’s Stout. While the most successful, it’s not Debbie’s first foray into food startups. “I started a business called CakeBombs in December 2011, producing cakes and chocolate treats.
“This operated on a small scale while I was at home with my son and the business wrapped up in 2013 when I developed a range of condiments and sauces and Kitty’s was born,” Debbie explains.
Debbie funded Kitty O’Byrnes with a combination of personal savings and a bank loan. Enterprise Ireland is also supporting the business. Three sauces currently comprise the firm’s product range — ‘Smoked Turf’, ‘Sweet and Tangy Turf’, and ‘Hot Turf’. They can be used as a table sauce, marinade, baste or dipping sauce. Debbie outsources the sauce production in Ireland.
Explaining her company’s brand image, Debbie says she took inspiration from her childhood in the Midlands. “My main product, Turf Sauce, has a rich dark colour that reminded me of the fuel that kept us warm and which powered my mother’s cooker. Kitty O’Byrnes was named after my cousin, a very sweet lady and an amazing cook.
“My husband is a graphic designer and we worked together to develop the brand. It was important that it had an Irish feel and the co-branding with Murphy’s Irish Stout adds a layer to that. It takes a lot to get branding right. There was enormous learning for me last year on this as part of the Food Works programme, which I hope over time to incorporate into Kitty’s.”
Partnering with Murphy’s took a long time to fall into place, according to Debbie. “I worked with a number of people in Heineken Ireland over a period of time to pull it all together. I think they realised how passionate and determined I was about everything, and I’m grateful to carry a strong Irish brand on my products.”
Debbie’s participation in the Food Academy, a joint venture by Bord Bia, the LEOs and SuperValu, was another shrewd move and helped secure product listings in SuperValu stores. Debbie also participated in the Food Works programme run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.
Debbie’s advice to other food startups is to consider doing the same. She also recommends that entrepreneurs do their homework before launching a product. “You really need to know your market inside out, such as the competitive set, positioning, category forecasts, consumer trends and insights. This will help guide and shape decisions you make around your product or offering.
“And never underestimate the power of networking. Find groups and events that are relevant to your market, join and attend where possible. The potential learning and support from networking is invaluable.”