Entrepreneur Shera McAlorum was understandably delighted when German discounter Aldi Ireland listed two of her original meals on a promotion for 145 stores across the Republic of Ireland.
Shera runs Karri Kitchen, a small business in Portadown specialising in Asian fusion meals.
Originally from Indonesia, Shera, 33, came to Northern Ireland from Sydney in Australia, where she worked in hospitality. She arrived in Portadown with Chris, her husband, a local businessman.
She’s among a developing group of smaller businesses which have started their journey in food preparation with a commitment to measures to protect the local environment, including a sharp focus on compostable packaging.
“I grew up in parts of the world, especially Australia, where environmental conversation is now immensely important. It was second nature for me to focus on ‘green’ technology,” she says.
“I am also including as many local ingredients as possible to reduce food miles,” Shera adds.
Interestingly, Green Fingers Family Granola in Larne, another new listing by Aldi, has also started its business journey by investing in sustainability.
Andrea Bohar, originally from central Hungary, has developed her portfolio of five granolas using only natural ingredients and in fully compostable packs.
“It was quite a challenge that has resulted in everything from the bag to the label, from the box filler to the tape being fully compostable. All the granolas are completely plastic free,” Andrea explains.
Another fine role model is Newry’s Neary Nógs Chocolate Markers, Northern Ireland’s only stoneground bean to bar chocolate producer, which last month gained the prestigious Mott Green Award from the influential Academy of Chocolate for its commitment to sustainability and waste elimination.
The small company, which is run by husband and wife team Shane and Dot Neary and based near Rostrevor, also runs its production plant using solar panels, harvests rain water and uses exclusively eco-packaging.
They worked with the Grenada Chocolate Company in the Caribbean on a unique product for Fortnum and Mason in London on chocolates produced and transported without fossil fuels. Together they created the world’s first ‘farm to shore’ Sailboat Chocolate which is 99 per cent emission-free.
Shane says: “Winning the Mott Green Award is a marvellous endorsement by the industry of our dedication to environmental conservation and our strategic focus on minimising our overall foodprint … to do as little harm as possible to the environment.”
The raw chocolate was even transported from the sailboat in Carlingford Lough by row boat, horse and cart.
A small company which has succeeded in eliminating all plastic is Suki Tea Makers in Belfast in its long-standing commitment to the environment.
Suki is a leading supplier of premium loose-leaf tea and infusions to customers in the UK, Ireland and other parts of Europe as well as Japan and Dubai.
Oscar Woolley, who founded Suki with Ann Irwin, explains: “We care about people, plant and planet, from open and responsible sourcing to how the teas are packaged and transported.”
He continues: “Operating in a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable manner are the cornerstones of everything we do.
“Our tea pyramids are made from paper, yarn and a special material called Soilon, meaning unlike some traditional teabags, our pyramid teabags are completely natural and plastic-free!”
Made from corn starch, Soilon is a naturally derived product that is fully compostable so can be disposed of in your food waste bin.
“All this means that the packaging is as environmentally friendly as the tea that goes inside it.
“Boxes for retailers are also made from sustainably sourced cardboard (FSC or PEFC) and are either pre-printed using vegetable-based inks or use a paper-based label,” he adds.
Leading prepared veg producer Mash Direct, the farm-based business in Comber, has swapped difficult-to-recycle black plastic in favour of widely recyclable green trays.
The investment has eliminated more than 240 tonnes of single-use packaging each year.
“We took the decision as part of our focus on sustainability as might be expected, especially on a farm-based business, because black plastic cannot be sorted by the optical sorting systems used in plastics recycling and as a result commonly ends up as residue and is disposed of in landfill,” says Mash Direct’s chief operating officer Jack Hamilton.
“By moving to fully recyclable trays we are improving our environmental footprint as well as contributing to the long-term health and prosperity of the food and drink sector.”
The brand has also extended its commitment to going palm oil-free, banning the use of the controversial oil in any upcoming NPD.
It follows Mash Direct’s reformulation to remove palm oil from its products last year following a public outcry over deforestation caused by the palm oil industry.
Another to eliminate plastic is Yellow Door in Portadown, part of one of Northern Ireland’s leading catering and food businesses.
The business, headed by chef Simon Dougan, has removed nearly all single-use plastics and has found biodegradable alternatives where possible. Changes include switching from plastic-lined takeaway cups to 100 per cent compostable cups.
Richard Wright, manager at Yellow Door, says: “As a business we’ve been tackling our plastic use and replacing single-use plastics and packaging with alternatives such as compostables and recyclables for quite a while.
“It’s something that our customers have noticed and are really appreciating.”