BACK in 2016, Cork County Council established Cork Incubator Kitchens in Carrigaline. The venture, the first of its kind in Ireland and playing to Cork’s strengths as Ireland’s food capital, offers a state of the art food production and training facility to many of Cork’s small food businesses at low cost and low risk.
Established to provide facilities to new and emerging food business start-ups and scale-ups, the facility continues to be fully supported by Cork County Council, with the day to day management of operations by The Food Safety Company, a multi-disciplinary food business consultancy with offices in Cork and Dublin.
Mairead McCarthy is General Manager of The Food Safety Company and a member of the team responsible for managing Cork Incubator Kitchens. The team is the point of contact for businesses interested in renting one of the two production kitchens at the site, as well as supporting those businesses with the variety of experience and expertise available via The Food Safety Company.
Mairead explains: “We have two kitchens on site, a bakery kitchen and a food production kitchen. Both are available to rent by the hour. We have clients that use the kitchens to trial production of a new product without the expense and overheads of investing in their own facility.”
In addition to food production, Cork Incubator Kitchens are utilised by companies carrying out research and development, training and workshops.
Since rolling back on some restrictions, businesses are returning to the routine of production. Some clients with small production units have found Cork Incubator Kitchens invaluable for providing additional production space to better facilitate Social Distancing for their employees.
“July was our busiest time,” says Mairead, “with a 100% increase in bookings from our previous busiest month. One client alone, using the space for research and development of a new product, booked a block of 50 hours to complete work on new product development.”
Just like the recession of 2008, the pandemic has created a positive wave of new interest from people looking to change their prospects.
“We have been inundated with enquiries from people looking for new opportunities post lockdown, who have maybe held a dream for a while now about starting their own food business, and looking at Cork Incubator Kitchens as a way to see if an idea can work.”
The units are available to rent at a cost of €15 per hour. This covers use of the space and equipment, all utilities and cleaning equipment. The kitchens come fitted with top of the range equipment, (fridges, chillers, ovens, gas rangers, mixers, scales and vacuum packers), and kitted out to the highest food production hygiene standards.
Each unit also has its own foyer, hygiene station, storage room and can facilitate goods in and out. Clients bring their own additional equipment and ingredients with them to create the ultimate pop-up kitchen. Some limited storage is available on site at a cost of €15 per week.
In addition, The Food Safety Company monitor both kitchens for compliance with HSE requirements, supplying all approved cleaning materials and, through access to the consultancy work of The Food Safety Company, information and guidance in respect of all aspects of food safety.
“The process of accessing the kitchen starts with an enquiry. We provide information about the facility, ensure businesses are registered with the HSE and that all relevant insurances are in place,” said Mairead.
“Then businesses can register as a client of Cork Incubator Kitchens via the website, we invite them in for an induction, including how to use the equipment, fire and health and safety requirements. Clients are issued with an access fob and can then book the kitchens by the hour online. The whole process from then on in is completely contactless.”
But it’s not just food production that Cork Incubator Kitchens cater for. The space is often used for workshops with Transition Year students, helping them gain a valuable life skill by learning to cook; catering companies working on large corporate events; and busy seasonal work in the lead up to Christmas, Easter or summer festivals and events.
“We have 20 registered and active users of Cork Incubator Kitchens right now,” says Mairead, “with a further eight awaiting their HSE registration planning on using the facilities. This facility can give businesses the space to take a step back and consider long term production before they commit to a big investment.”
Cork County Council remain active partners in making Cork Incubator Kitchens a success. Not only were they behind the inception and creation of the initiative, the council continue to fund the facility and work closely with The Food Safety Company.
Mairead said: “We report to Cork County Council monthly on performance and discuss ways to market the facility and promote the work and success of the clients that use it. In the wake of Covid-19, the Council has been really proactive in assisting with the purchase of sanitation stations and signage for the facility also.”
Rebel Chilli and Athula Fusion Foods are just some of the Cork-based food businesses utilising the facility regularly with successful results. The Food Safety Company work their network to assist clients of Cork Incubator Kitchens to identify opportunities for growth. They work closely with major retailers: Supervalu, Dunnes, Aldi and Lidl, all of whom have programmes designed to support small food producers find tractionrestaurateurs in the bigger retail market space.
Success in such a programme often results in significant growth and facilitating a move to larger production kitchens of their own.
“We are here to help the clients of Cork Incubator Kitchens to succeed. We don’t just provide the facility,” says Mairead, “we can help with access to retail growth programmes, guidance on food safety matters — even with suppliers of kitchen equipment.”
Cork Incubator Kitchens are available for rent by anyone for any food-related activity.
Research and development and food production are key markets, but they are also available for use as training and workshop space for members of the public as well as industry; and as an educational facility for children and young adults, even for chefs and .
For more, see www.corkincubatorkitchens.ie To find out more about The Food Safety Company, visit www.thefoodsafetycompany.ie