Why business right now is simply Heavenly for Shauna
COUNTY Tyrone businesswoman and mother-of-four Shauna McCarney Blair may have just signed a £300,000 deal with Sainsbury's, but that doesn't mean her work is ever over for the day.
Apart from the usual domestic duties at home in Fintona, the founder and managing director of Heavenly Organics children's superfood snacking brand, is always thinking up the next big taste sensation – with a little help from chief taster and youngest family member, 18 month-old Lily.
"Lily lets me know what she likes and what she doesn't, so everything goes past her when I'm testing out new recipes," says Shauna, whose Augher-based company turned over just under £750,00 last year.
"I'm always trying to come up with new ideas for our snack range and we have some new products due to launch next year. It's exciting to see the products lining up in the baby aisles in supermarkets across the UK and this new Sainsbury deal is one of our biggest yet."
After starting things rolling from her kitchen table in 2011 – with a frozen organic baby food range being manufactured at Loughry College in Cookstown soon afterwards – there are now more than 150,000 units per month of Heavenly Organics snacking products selling in top stores across the UK and Ireland.
Outlets in Ireland include Boots, Tesco and SuperValu, with the range – including coconut 'squishie' drinks, mini Italian breadsticks, crispy vegetable waffles and bestseller, wafer wisps – on the shelves in Waitrose, Ocado, Morrisons and independent retailers throughout the UK.
"It's unbelievable, really, how quickly the business has grown in such a relatively short time," says McCarney Blair, who now heads up a team of five, including husband James, who left a job with food with food and drinks giant Nestle to come on board as operations director.
"It all started because I was struggling to find wholesome, simple baby food in the shops when my children were small," she says.
"My two older children had food allergies at the time, so I really wanted to buy food close to what I would make at home."
She couldn't find what she wanted in the shops, so decided to go into business making her own organic baby food, while looking after children Joe (now 12), Cara 11, Elsa (3) and baby Lily – and also managing to squeeze in a first class honours degree in Food Management & Marketing at Loughry College through Ulster University.
"It has been ans still is extremely hard work but it's worth it," she adds.
"There was definitely a gap in the market for simple, tasty organic, low-sugar, tasty recipes and it's great to see so many other mothers, fathers – and babies – agree."
Due to the specialised nature of the technology needed to produce both organic and baby-grade food, the products are currently manufactured with partners across Europe, but Shauna hopes to find a suitable manufacturing base in Northern Ireland in the near future.
Heavenly Organics has also recently become the first baby food brand to be accredited by Sugarwise, the national organisation launched by Cambridge entrepreneur, Rend Platings, last year which certifies the sugar content of food.