“Sure when I first told them at home about it, they thought I was mad,” said Ed O’Donnell, recalling the day he told his family that he intended setting up his own business.
Ed, whose family have farmed in the valley near Slievenamon (Seskin, Kilsheelan to be precise) for seven generations, hadn’t chosen to enter property development, nor the green energy sector for that matter.
He had instead opted to throw his hat into a most competitive sector of the food market: crisps. And following three years of research, flesh pressing and visit after visit to grocery stores and supermarkets, Ed’s dream has become a reality.
“The crisps have been on the market for the past two weeks now,” he said, when discussing O’Donnells Authentic Hand Cooked Tipperary Crisps with this column on Friday last.
“We’re linked up with Musgraves, Centra and Super Valu and right now, the crisps are stocked in 660 stores throughout the Republic.
“We’re also being stocked by a number of independent outlets in Northern Ireland and it’s obviously going to take a few weeks for things to settle in, but the initial feedback has been very positive and I’m very excited to see where this all leads to.”
Ed is not a man to do things by halves, as anyone who’s seen him in action for Carrick-On-Suir Rugby Club over the years will testify to.
Wholehearted, full-blooded and supremely committed, he’s the kind of man you want alongside you in the trenches of sporting battle, something I’m fortunate to have first-hand knowledge of.
By combining his own knowledge of life on the land at home in Seskin with the academic acumen he gained in the UK, Ed stepped into entrepreneurship with eyes wide open.
“When I first started thinking about this in a meaningful way, I noted that there were 14 manufacturers of hand-cooked kettle crisps in the UK, all good products made from local ingredients,” he said.
“But there was no such product being made here in Ireland – and that to me represented an opening and something worth pursuing.”
Ed continued: “I’m a full-time farmer, coming from a family with a long tradition of growing potatoes in Seskin since the 1700s, and I’m keen to maintain that tradition for as long and as well as I can, which, for me, involves trying to create new income streams.
“So I went to the US on an intensive two-week course which detailed the production of snacks ‘from ground to bag’ and that proved incredibly useful, discussing ideas with a whole range of people about how best to get this idea off the ground.”
Upon his return to Ireland, Ed continued to talk and, more importantly, listen to approximately 170 store managers around the country, gathering feedback about how he could get his spuds from ground to bag – and into shops.
“That was probably the most important thing that I did over the past three years,” he admitted.
“All that feedback, nearly all of it encouraging, not only gave me a better idea about how I was going to do this, but it really consolidated in my own mind that I wasn’t barking up the wrong tree.
“I knew that this was going to be something that I could see through to reality and that’s led me to where I am with the product today, I’m glad to say.”
The development of the product, the sourcing of its flavours and the inception of how it would be packaged all involved time, patience and dedication.
Available in two flavours – Sea Salt & Irish Cider Vinegar and Mature Irish Cheese & Red Onion, Ed can be justly proud of the end product.
Having happily munched my way through a pack of Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar (the later flavour sourced from Con Traas Apple Farm outside Cahir), there’s no doubting the distinctive taste of an O’Donnells crisp.
“There have been so many strands that I’ve had to consider in reaching this particular point,” Ed continued.
“There’s distribution, there’s marketing, there’s PR, there’s design, there’s flavours and of course there’s the farming side of things – it’s been a great learning experience for me, to see the process the whole way through.”
While farming, like so many sectors, has been negatively affected by the recession, Ed is confident about what lies ahead.
“Look, I’m not revealing a secret by saying that things now are not as good as they were three years ago – the fall in the milk price has been very tough on farmers, but farmers are a resilient type by nature. We’ve had to be.
“And if there’s any one sector in this country that knows what it’s like to ride through a rough patch and move into better times, then it’s agriculture and, from my end of things, food production.”
Seeing his new product in stores across the country and receiving so much positive reaction this part fortnight has been “hugely satisfying” according to Ed.
And while the research; focus groups and planning involved in creating this product now represent the end of the beginning in one sense, surely the most exciting times still lie ahead for Ed O’Donnell, farmer and crisp maker!
For further details on this new local product, visit www.odonnellscrisps.com