Our member spotlight this week is on the first business owner to ever come into newmarket kitchen, Mari Donelan. Mari’s business Dan & Monstro has shown continued growth from where it all began in her own own kitchen, selling in farmers markets to now being sold in 30 Supervalu stores across Dublin, as well as being sold in other shops such as Centra, Fresh and stores across Wicklow. The product range of Dan & Monstro has also grown continually from just pasta sauce to Soup, Curry Sauce, and Pasta sauce. Mari is also in the process of developing a new product to add to her range which is expected to be ready for launch by September or October this year. We chatted to Mari about her experiences in running the business so far, her plans for the future and her experience in Newmarket Kitchen.
1. When did you set up your business?
The business started in 2014 -2015 selling the products at a Farmers market. In September 2015 Dan & Monstro launched into retail, initially stocking in 9 local supervalu stores.
2. What prompted you to start your business?
My son Ben was the inspiration behind my business and why I started it up. When he was very small he decided he wasn't going to eat any more vegetables, being a busy full time working mum, i would find myself popping into the local supermarkets to look for a sauce that I could use for dinner. I found a lot of the products available had a lot of salt , sugar and contained preservatives. I just didn't want to buy these sauces - I was looking for a sauce or product range that I could not only feed to Ben but for us adults too. I wanted a healthy, nutritious and convenient product, something I could use in different recipes, that was quick and easy to use and above all, Ben was getting his good nutrition. As pasta sauce was Bens favourite sauce at the time I started to think if I could blend lots of fresh vegetables through my own homemade pasta sauce recipe, so I started blending lots of fresh carrots, onion, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil into a sauce - so ben wouldn't see or taste the vegetables. I always had a desire to start up my own business and I have a great passion for cooking , so after several trials of the sauce I started to think, I could start up my own food business
3. What is your USP, how did you decide to market it ?
After sending my product to a lab I could confirm that it was low in sugar, had no added salt, was fat free, gluten free and a source of protein and vitamin C. The product was clean and healthy, unlike a lot of other brands on the market. In order to market this I wanted to create a brand that would stand out in the supermarkets and would attract parents, grandparents, children and health conscious customers of all ages, people who loved to buy and support Irish food, kids and adults that didn't like to eat vegetables, people who wanted to eat more vegetables, those who wanted a quick easy and fast dinner, vegetarians or customers who had food allergies. I wanted to make my products to be suitable for everyone and have my brand had to stand out. The logo was based around two hand puppets that Ben played with at the time, Dan the Dinosaur and Monstro the friendly monster from outer space. The packaging and logo was designed around them and the nutritional claims were clearly incorporated into the front of the packaging.
4. What has been your greatest moment since starting up?
There has been a number of great moments for Dan & Monstro, launching into retail was a big one. The products have also won a number of awards of the years which has been amazing:
-Dublin Regional final in June 2016 of ILDN National Enterprise Awards
-Bronze Award at Freefrom Food Awards 2016
-Silver at Blas na hEireann 2016 (Irish Food Awards) both products were selected as finalists.
Innovation Award at Freefrom Food Awards 2017
-Having write ups in Sunday World, Sunday Business Post & Business Plus Magazine - you can read the articles here at: http://www.danandmonstro.ie/media.html
5. Have you some tips that you think would help someone starting off a food business ?
Research your market, know your competitors & be unique - bring something new to your customers and make sure your brand stands out!
6. What would you do differently?
Nothing really, I'm learning more and more each week, month & season about my business and it's certainly equipping me for future decisions & targets.
7. Do you have any future plans in place?
To launch into more supermarkets, independent retailers and health shops .
I am currently developing a new product and am hoping to have that ready for September/ October of this year.
8. Where can we find your products?
In 30 Supervalu stores across Dublin, Supervalu Greystones, Charlesland, Wicklow and Arklow. We recently launched in Co Meath, Centra Dalkey and Fresh in Grand Canal Quay .
9. How have you found your experience working from new market kitchen?
Being the first and longest member of Newmarket kitchen I’ve had the chance to met lots of other food business owners who have come and gone over the years. We all share and offer advice to each other and many of us are becoming good friends too.
-The team at Newmarket are always there to help in any way possible.