Jonny Laverty has just set up an artisan business to develop a range of healthier snack foods with twin brother Andy and long-standing friend David Knowles.
The start-up enterprise is a development of the successful fitness business run by the energetic trio. They’ve named the new business, which is based in Lisburn, Wolf and Woodsman, a quirky brand aimed at younger consumers. Their first product in a planned range of healthier foods is a sweet potato crisp.
The three businessmen are developing the new venture on the back of their successful strengthening and conditioning gym, White Wolf, also based in Lisburn.
“Wolf and Woodsman carries forward the ‘wolf’ from the gym,” says Jonny Laverty, who has a degree in fitness and nutrition focused Outdoor Education at the University of Liverpool, a qualification that brother Andy also holds.
David Knowles, their mutual friend from school days at Portadown College, holds a Masters in Theology and Philosophy from Queen’s University, Belfast. “We chose ‘woodsman’ as the other part of the brand because we liked the earthy identity that this creates,” adds Jonny.
The three friends decided to turn their interest in training and fitness into a small business on graduation and set up the gym at Hulls Hill in Lisburn. That was in 2014 and it’s proved an outstanding success. The gym specialises on CrossFit courses focusing on strengthening and conditioning.
“CrossFit is a training programme that builds strength and conditioning through extremely varied and challenging workouts,” he continues.
“Each day the workout will test a different part of functional strength or conditioning, not specialising in one particular thing, but rather with the goal of building a body that’s capable of practically anything and everything,” he says.
Explaining the decision to diversify into the highly competitive snack market, he explains:
“We’ve seen the development of various products, such as protein bars and shakes, aimed at the growing fitness and nutrition marketplace. So, we decided to start creating our own range of healthier products,” he adds. They also wanted an original brand with a ”distinctively artisan feel”.
They began researching the market to pinpoint opportunities for new healthy ‘eat on the go’ snacks.
“This process led us to identify a gap in the market for sweet potato crisps because they are lower in fat and also delicious. We buy the sweet potatoes in the US and cook them in sunflower oil, which was chosen after tests with a number of oils.
“The sunflower oil gave us the flavour profile we wanted and is regarded as a healthier oil. There’s also no added sugar in the crisps.”
Why sweet potatoes? “The sweet potato is described as a bright orange root vegetable, and is treated in a similar way to butternut squash, parsnips, swede and turnips. Unlike potatoes, these vegetables do count towards five-a-day because they are lower in starch than other carbohydrates and are usually eaten in addition to the starchy part of a meal.”
So, what in particular do sweet potatoes offer that makes them better for us? And what is the difference between sweet potatoes and white potatoes?
“Sweet potatoes are a source of four essential micronutrients: vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and manganese, which between them have a whole range of properties that our bodies need to keep us ticking over,” adds Jonny
The most prominent nutrient in sweet potatoes is vitamin C: one large sweet potato contains more than 70 per cent of reference intake, more than double that of white potatoes! Vitamin C’s roles in the human body are vast: aside from the well-known immune system boost, vitamin C is required to maintain our teeth and gums, cell protection, psychological function, nervous system function and it also enhances our ability to absorb iron.
The business partners are kitting out a small factory unit in Lisburn for the production and packaging of the new crisps, which currently have a shelf-life of four months. They’ve also received support from Ulster Bank and the bank’s Entrepreneurial Spark advice and mentoring scheme. An Invest NI Innovation Voucher helped in developing the crisps.
“We’ve taste tested the crisps on friends and family and received universally positive feedback. This response encouraged us to push ahead with the launch of the original sweet potato crisps and to start planning additional flavours. It’s a very challenging but immensely exciting development for us, another stage in our business journey,” he adds.
They are pitching the new crisps to leading delis, independent retailers, cafes and bars in Northern Ireland as a first stage.