Tom Keogh and Maxine Hyde share all they’ve learned so far…

“Certainly not the weather!”

There were many reasons why the Thrive Project’s class of 2019 came to London, the seemingly never-ending rain wasn’t one of them. Rather the handful of entrepreneurs from some of Ireland’s most exciting food and drink start-ups were visiting the city (the Coca-Cola GB headquarters, more precisely) for a two-day strategy workshop.

Fortunately, we got the chance to sit down with two star pupils: Tom Keogh from premium potato crisps and popcorn manufacturer, Keogh’s Crisps, and Maxine Hyde of Ballymaloe Foods, producer of the famous “Ballymaloe Relish” and much more. The pair discussed not only what had been happening in London, but also everything they’d experienced since the 2019 Thrive Project – a six-month leadership programme co-created by Coca-Cola and Enterprise Ireland – began. This, of course, included an inspiring trip to our global headquarters in Atlanta…

Maxine brought some Ballymaloe Foods products with her across the Irish Sea.

“It was an incredible two days in Atlanta,” revealed Maxine. “As smaller companies, having the opportunity to sit in front of these amazingly successful people talking about how Coca Cola does things offered huge learnings.”

“We had exposure to people that are probably the best in their field”, added Tom. “As Maxine said, to get their input on the challenges we’re facing was hugely valuable. The little insights they shared about how they actually work on a day-to-day basis was really great.”

But it wasn’t all workshops and meeting rooms – the class also enjoyed a day out at the famous ‘World of Coca-Cola’ attraction. “It’s like Disneyland for drinks”.

48 hours in London

Reaching the London leg of the trip means that this year’s class has neared the end of its six-month journey. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t much still to be learned…

The London trip focused on the process of incepting and successfully launching new products. Over the course of two days, the entrepreneurs engaged with a number of experts across the Coca-Cola GB team, from brand to marketing, and packaging to sales.

“The work on future consumer mindset, how Coca-Cola is actually tailoring its communications to suit the future consumer, was great. There’s an absolute dedication to consumer insights,” said Tom. “I think what I see with a lot of food companies, and maybe with more manufacturing companies, is that it starts with the product. You establish a product and then figure out how to sell it. Whereas at Coca-Cola everything starts with the consumer. It’s a real science.”

Tom Keogh’s family-run business, Keogh’s Crisps, produces premium potato crisps and popcorn.

And his biggest learning from the experience?

“How Coca-Cola simplifies everything. I think businesses at our level are world class at making things over complicated and get really lost in the detail. At Coca-Cola, everything is structured in a way that’s very easy to navigate and see exactly where you are.”

“I probably learned more about supply chain and production things,” explained Maxine. “Those area haven’t been my normal focus. So, to be brought through some of those sections was truly interesting.”

Just as Tom, Maxine, and the other Thrive Project participants have learned from Coca-Cola throughout the experience, they’ve also learned a great deal from each other.

“Most of the people on the course are owners or managers,” said Maxine. “So, to hear from people from different businesses and role, and to hear how they're doing things differently, was really just so inspiring.”

“We're probably learning just as much from each other,” said Tom. “Because the Thrive Project is actually an open forum to discuss a lot of business issues and obstacles that you probably wouldn’t discuss on a day-to-day basis.”

2020 vision

2020 is just around the corner. Of course, that means Tom and Maxine will soon be celebrating their Thrive Project graduation. But, more importantly, it means that they’re both now thinking about the year ahead. The good news is they’ve now been left with a lot more to think about…

The class of 2019 got to visit Fruit Towers, Innocent Drinks’ HQ.

“Our next move will be to put more processes in place,” stated Maxine. “Like, for example, brand planning and how we run our social media. It’s about bringing ourselves up from a small company to trying to be a little more professional.”

Tom’s priorities, however, are slightly further afield: “A focus on export markets, for us. It’s evident that Coca Cola wouldn't be what it is today if it hadn't actually got out there and sold itself overseas. The world is a huge place, and where we come from, Ireland, is very, very small. But there's definitely an appetite out there for Irish products. Small wins overseas can be massive successes for smaller businesses like ours.”

And what about any advice for businesses thinking of applying to the 2020 Thrive Project?

“Make sure you can take the time off to spend on the project,” said Tom. “Also definitely look at the stage your business is at. Because there's certain things that will go over the head of small businesses, and things some large business may have seen before.”

“I would hugely recommend it,” added Maxine. “What I'd probably encourage as well is after you’ve done your sessions, give yourself the time to reread over what you've learned. Absorb as much as you can!”

Discover more on how the Thrive Project is transforming Irish businesses.