Find out what happened when we took eight Irish start-ups stateside…

We speak from experience when we say that the journey from start-up to global business isn’t a simple one. That’s why we actively seek to share the learnings we’ve picked up along the way – be they small, big, or monumental – with the next generation of businesses a little younger than us.

We achieve this in Ireland through the Thrive Project. In collaboration with Enterprise Ireland, every year we put several of the nation’s most ambitious food and drink start-ups through their paces on a six-month leadership programme that offers the opportunity to gain insights and expertise from some of The Coca-Cola Company’s most senior executive leaders. Celebrating its fourth year in 2019, the Thrive Project has already seen 23 Irish entrepreneurs graduate with flying colours.

The class of 2019 are: Ballymaloe Foods, a range of table sauces and relishes; Blanco Nino, a range of authentic tortillas; Boann Distillery, a range single malt, pot still and blended whiskies; Dairy Concepts, a range of healthy and nutritious hand-held dairy snack products; Keoghs Crisps, a range of premium potato crisps and popcorn; Killowen Yogurt, a range of yoghurts; Loughnanes, a range of premium breakfast meats and vegan burger; and Rye River, a range of over twenty beers.

You can find more information on the eight companies further below, but first it’s time to see what they’ve been up to at this stage in the project.

The 2019 cohort are on a mission to take their brands international.

A jet-setting journey

Now that we’re midway through the programme, this year’s participants are enjoying a period of R&R after a jampacked Coca-Cola tour. First stop was a journey stateside to Atlanta, where they took part in a two-day intensive boot-camp and joined interactive coaching sessions on strategy development, commercialisation and R&D.

Our participants were also asked to share one of their ongoing business challenges with the bootcamp, and had the opportunity to work through the challenge with Coca-Cola’s help, of course.

Upon jetting back to Ireland from Atlanta, the Thrive Project continued with a series of workshops led by Enterprise Ireland on business planning and strategy, in which the participants were challenged to apply their learnings to-date.

But they’re not stopping there, with a trip to London next on the cards. The eight will be making a two-day visit to our Western European Headquarters, where they will participate in strategy and innovation sessions, and also have the opportunity to meet executives from Innocent. It’s safe to say that the brand’s short journey to international stardom is an inspiration for any business.

There remains much to be taken from the rest of the six-month programme.

As the 2019 programme continues, both Coca-Cola and Enterprise Ireland will continue to support the cohort’s learning of new skills and ideas to fuel their ambitious plans for the future. Thrive Project alumni, CEO of Strong Roots Sam Dennigan can testify this: “The Coca-Cola Thrive Project enabled Strong Roots to reach new export markets and grow internationally. I came away from the two days in Atlanta with so much information and energy. It opened my eyes to the potential size of the market that we could reach and showed me what was possible.

“Following that experience, we revisited our plans and became even more ambitious. I credit the Thrive Project for challenging my thinking and for motivating Strong Roots to grow bigger, faster.”

Keep a look out for more info on how the Thrive Project’s class of 2019 get on!

Full details of participating companies

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 Thrive Project cohort…

Ballymaloe, established by the Hyde Family in Co Cork in 1989, produces a range of table sauces and relishes, salad dressings, pasta sauces and beetroot products. With its flagship “Ballymaloe Relish “the company has continued to develop and bring new products and products to the Irish and export markets. The firm is one of 16 separate businesses that were created after Myrtle Allen established a country house hotel and restaurant at Ballymaloe in the 1960s. Ballymaloe Country Relish is operated by Ms Allen’s daughter Yasmin Hyde and her family.

Blanco Nino was founded in 2013 by Philip Martin, manufacturing a range of authentic tortillas from their base in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Blanco Nino uses traditional methods and natural ingredients to differentiate from the mass-produced alternatives that dominate the market. Serving the ever growing quick-service Mexican market throughout Europe, Blanco Nino now operates in 13 different markets. The company is also in the process of launching a range of Tortilla chips for which they have a live crowd-funding campaign.

Boann Distillery, established in 2015 by the Cooney family, produce a range single malt, pot still and blended whiskies on-site, as well as a “small-batch, premium gin” and a range of craft beers from their 50,000 square feet complex. The range of whiskies are marketed under ‘The Whistler’ brand, while the beers are under the Boyne Brewhouse.

Dairy Concepts was founded in 2012 by business partners Tom Brennan and Paul Simpson, to research, develop and manufacture healthy and nutritious hand-held dairy snack products. The business is located in Moorepark Technology Ltd Co Cork, a subsidiary of Teagasc Food Research Centre. Dairy Concepts creates functional dairy snacks with global appeal using an innovative dairy platform technology licenced from Teagasc. DCI has developed a "world-first" range of high protein, hand-held natural dairy snacks. DCI’s first product to market, Fruchee, won Best Children’s Dairy Product at the prestigious 2017 World Dairy Innovation Awards, where the judging panel deemed it an “entirely new product category”. The product will be fully launched to the market in the coming months.

Founded in 2011, Keogh’s Crisps manufacture a range of premium potato crisps and popcorn. They have a long heritage of growing potatoes, with a well-established domestic brand in Irish retail. They extended into crisps in 2011, capitalising on changing consumer demand towards more premium crisp offerings, with a focus on provenance – and have a big focus on using Irish ingredients. Last year Keogh’s won a significant contract with Emirates Airlines, the world’s largest airline and have recently launched a new range of popcorn.

Killowen Farm, situated at the foot of the Blackstairs Mountains in Co. Wexford, has been the Dunne Family home for over 200 years. Killowen’s USP is centred on traceability and sustainability using milk exclusively from its own herd of pedigree cows with fruit coming from local growers. Killowen Farm produces a range of different yogurts for both retailers and food service businesses in Ireland, UK, France and the Middle East. It is most famous for its Greek-Style range in glass jars which is available in the prestigious Burj Al Arab and the first-class cabin of Emirates Airlines.

Starting out as a butcher shop in Galway in the 1970s, the Loughnane’s business progressed to manufacturing two decades later, now employing 170 people. Loughnane’s manufacture a range of premium breakfast meats (Loughnane’s, Rudd’s and Guinness Ranges), in addition to their newly added vegan range under the Eden brand.

Founded in 2013 by Tom Cronin, Rye River produce a range of over twenty beers. The Kildare brewery is behind five well-known brands that are available in major supermarkets including its flagship McGargle’s, Crafty Brewing, and Grafters ranges. Rye River Seasonals also produce one-off experimental brews. Rue River has been nominated for the 2019 EY Entrepreneur of The Year Award, in the ‘Emerging’ category.

Want to learn more about the Thrive Project? Check out our wrap-up from last year.