While Nature’s Best may be one of the largest food companies in Ireland today, automated barcode orders and the intricacies of cous cous packaging were certainly far from Paddy Callaghan’s mind when he set up the company in his garage over 35 years ago.
Having grown up on a farm, Paddy was emboldened with a sense of independence and the clarity that he was not cut out for a life of working for someone else. He wanted to start his own business and, in the late 1980s, he was searching for an idea that could put his passion for farming and food to good use.
"I discovered that bean sprouts grow pretty quickly. It takes three days from the dehydrated seed to the finished product. To cut a long story short I imported eight machines from China that were about the size of a filing cabinet. It was a very small investment. I put them in the garage and started growing bean sprouts."
At first he sold his bean sprouts at fruit and veg markets in Dublin before moving on to the likes of Roche’s Stores on Henry Street. “At that time in Ireland there were no products like this on the shelves.” Today Nature’s Best supplies 296 products to almost every supermarket in Ireland.
The journey down any prepared vegetable and salads aisle in Ireland is one that is filled with variety and colour. And the amazing thing is that Nature’s Best are not only responsible for the supply of much of this produce but, through Paddy, they are responsible for the introduction of many of these ideas to Ireland.
Take mixed bag salads, for instance. A ubiquitous item in nearly every Irish household today, in the early 1990s they simply did not exist in Ireland.
“I remember being in France one summer, in the early 90s, and going into a shop and seeing mixed, washed salads together and thought ‘Wow, this is great. This looks like it could be something big,’”
“I managed to do a technology transfer deal with the French company who had developed this sort of business,” says Paddy, ever the collaborator. He soon introduced mixed salads to the Irish market and over the intervening period they have grown to become Nature’s Best most popular product.
This may be the story of just one product but it’s symbolic of all that Nature’s Best has stood for over the past 30 years. Spotting a gap in the market, developing a long-lasting, game changing idea and collaborating with key players on how to make the product a success.
It is also indicative of Nature’s Best’s proven track record when it comes to embracing the latest technology in food production and food safety. While their facility today includes 18 production lines and a specialist onsite testing laboratory, Paddy is well aware of how far they have come:
“Today, when somebody buys a product in the shop and they scan it, the barcode automatically generates another order. When we started out first, we used to have to individually phone every single supermarket in the country, check the order and generate all the delivery dockets etc.”
From Paddy’s garage, right through to the 80,000sq ft centre of excellence in Drogheda today, Nature’s Best’s growth has been driven by a family passion and the work of many great people. While Paddy has stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the company, two of his children, Rory and Ruth, have followed in his footsteps.
Paddy has no doubt that they, along with the rest of the 300 strong staff, have what it takes to guide Nature’s Best into the future:
“I’m very fortunate and very lucky. They’re doing a great job. It’s in a good place. We’ve made mistakes over the years and don’t always get it right but we’ve a great team of people and I don’t say that easily. I have a firm belief in life that if you have the right people with you, you can do anything.”
Paddy is also lending a hand to the food leaders of tomorrow. Through our Green Shoots programme, Nature’s Best is providing a world of support to food businesses who are starting out their journey.
“I passionately believe Ireland is a great place for food and food production but it’s not an easy place for a new food company to get off the ground. It’s difficult for a whole lot of reasons. I was very lucky 30 years ago that I started in the garage. I don’t think anybody could start there now.
“Coming from a farming background and having done it myself; knowing some of the pitfalls and some of the challenges, we’re happy to help in any realistic way.”
Whether it be helping multinational supermarkets develop an exciting new product or providing guidance to local entrepreneurs, the legacy of Paddy and Nature’s Best is one we are extremely proud of.