Trading Stories: Kieran launches new product to have a chip at the food market

Trading Stories: Kieran launches new product to have a chip at the food market
Kieran Wall of Honest Chips

HOW did the business begin?

Working out of the family farm in Whitegate, my parents had a business selling prepared fresh chips to restaurants and chippers.

They would peel and prepare the potatoes and vegetables, bag them, and deliver them fresh. I was involved during the weekends, doing everything from packing to helping prepare them.

I was an engineer, working with multi-nationals on big construction projects. It’s a big change, but I always had an interest in the business.

What made you want to get involved full-time?

The drawback with the chips was that the restaurants would have to part-cook them themselves.

They would have to come in in the morning and prepare them, cooking them on the inside and keeping them until the evening to flash fry them.

A lot of the restaurants didn’t even have the space. I thought that was holding the business back.

Then, chilled chips that were ready to cook came on the market. They were mainly coming from big businesses in Belgium.

They have a lot of additives, but a lot of restaurants were taking them on.

We were trying to sell a fresh chip that took a lot of work compared to one you could prepare and buy in bulk.

How did you solve the problem?

The original idea was that we would par-cook chips and sell them to restaurants, but we were up against big competition.

We could offer better quality and a local service, but we could never compete on price. Joe Burke from the South Cork Local Enterprise Office advised me to go on a course called ‘Kickstart Your Food Business,’ with James Burke, an ex-director of Superquinn.

He gave me a grilling and he advised me to steer away from food service and focus on retail.

Because most houses don’t use fryers any more and mainly use ovens, it gave me a new challenge. How to put a fresh chip into an oven and make it crispy?

Potatoes are 80% water, so when you put them in the oven, it’s hard to make them crispy.

You need to get the right water content and the right dry matter content. It starts with the right potatoes, but you have to condition them too.

You can do that with the right storage. It’s a bit of a black art. It’s not normally done and it’s something that I’ve had to do by trial and error, but it works.

We also add a baking sheet into the bag, because that will draw out moisture and make them crisp.

They advised me to go into the Food Academy programme, where James was the facilitator. We were able to look at the business from start to finish and I learned about marketing and branding.

I had no experience with retail. I wouldn’t even have been going into supermarkets — my wife did all the shopping — but I learned a lot.

In March, we had to pitch to Musgraves and the SuperValu owners. We had to convince them of our product, and they thought this was something to go on.

We’re now in 12 different stores, after launching on my birthday in June, at SuperValu in Midleton, my local store. The manager said the sales have been phenomenal.

Why do you think your product works?

People all have their own idea of fresh chips, but few people have the time to go peeling, and slicing, and par-cooking, and then putting them in the oven.

With Honest Chips, you can have fresh chip from the bag to the plate in 15 minutes.

They’re not from frozen — they’re chilled — they have no additives, and they are actually fresh.

When I’m doing a tasting session in a shop, I can tell people that I prepared them the day before, bagged them that morning, and cooked them from fresh.

The only ingredients are potato and beef dripping. They are par-cooked in beef dripping, which gives them the best flavour. We don’t add anything else. We rely on having the best potatoes instead.

Are you looking forward to the Cork and Kerry Food Market next week?

I am. I’ve done a good few tastings in the past and you always learn something from people.

It’s a good chance to get the word out, and I’ll be handing out samples too. I’ll have my little oven there, cooking them fresh.

It will be nice to be around so many other local food companies too, because context is everything when it comes to food.

Most people head straight to the frozen section for chips, but mine are in the fridge. They sell much better if they are next to fish and steaks, which people associate with chips.

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