Cork-based mum turns kid's love for ketchup into successful health food business

Loretta Kennedy turned her kid’s love for ketchup into a healthy food business. She tells Amy Nolan how Network Cork provided support
Cork-based mum turns kid's love for ketchup into successful health food business

Business woman of the year awards 2021

A BUSINESS venture that started from one woman’s kitchen table in Glanmire and has established itself as a much-loved brand in homes all over Ireland has now set its sights on the international market.

In what has been a whirlwind few years of success for Loretta Kennedy, the founder of MamaBear Foods, the business is continuing on an upward trajectory.

Ms Kennedy, who originally hails from Mayo, first came up with the idea to create a good-for-the-gut ketchup in a bid to replace her children’s favourite condiment with a healthier alternative.

“My third child in particular, she was great as a baby, but as she went through being a picky two-year-old I realised I was just buying loads of ketchup just to try and get food into her. I’d use it as an incentive to try and get her to eat her veg — and it wasn’t a teaspoon, she was having loads of it, as were my other two kids,” she told The Echo.

Shocked to discover the high sugar content in many brands of ketchup, Ms Kennedy went about creating a homemade version.

“I quickly discovered that if it looked like ketchup and tasted good, I could decant into the plastic squeeze bottles and they ate it.

“I thought, oh this is really interesting, so I really started working on it a bit more and I started doing farmers markets in Cork.”

However, Ms Kennedy said she was initially reluctant to turn her passion project into a full-time business venture.

“My sister has two food businesses and she really encouraged me, but I thought who am I to think I could start up my own business?

“I didn’t even do home economics for my leaving cert,” she laughed.

 Business woman of the year awards 2021
Business woman of the year awards 2021

“I’m not a chef, but when I do see a problem I like to try and solve it.”

With that attitude in mind, Ms Kennedy decided to take the plunge and in November 2018 she launched her product in the SuperValu store in Glanmire.

“I’ll never forget the bottles were still hot going on the shelves at like half ten at night! They left the shop open for me to put them out — they were amazing in there. I actually cried I was so emotional about it.”

Just four months later, Ms Kennedy pitched to Aldi and landed a contract to sell her products nationwide in the supermarket chain.

Ms Kennedy’s ethos with her products is to “sneak in as much goodness as possible”, with her reduced sugar ketchup containing things like organic brambly apple cider vinegar, and chicory root fibre.

But of course, taste is paramount.

“One of the biggest compliments I can get from a child or anyone tasting the ketchup is that ‘it tastes like the stuff we buy!’

“Some of the healthy stuff just tastes so healthy that kids won’t touch it,” she said.

During the pandemic, Loretta whose business won silver at Blas na hÉireann in 2019, used the time to do some product development and finalised the recipes for her Roasted Garlic Ketchup, Smokey BBQ Ketchup and her pasta sauce with hidden veg.

“I want to start exporting now, that’s my next thing,” she said.

Throughout her incredible business journey, one source of constant support for Ms Kennedy has been Network Cork.

“I have nothing but good things to say about Network Cork and I tell a lot of women who are starting out in business to join.

“The knowledge and the wisdom in there is just incredible.

“It’s full of really smart and experienced people,” she said.

Ms Kennedy is a previous winner of the Emerging Business category at the Network Ireland Cork Businesswoman of the Year Awards in 2019 — an accolade that meant the world to her.

“It put me on another level.

“It just gave such a boost to me and my confidence.”

As well as encouraging women in business to join the Network, Ms Kennedy also shared some additional advice for budding entrepreneurs.

“If an idea has been really niggling at you for a long time and it’s not going away, I think you should probably look at it or somebody else will and then you’ll just curse yourself!

“I think a lot of people over the years have probably missed out on businesses because they haven’t acted.

“The second thing is, do your costings really well from the beginning — that’s really important.”

This year, the Emerging Business award is sponsored by Grant Thornton.

The closing date to apply for the Network Ireland Businesswoman of the Year Awards is Friday, April 16 at 5pm.

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