Moms Doing It For Themselves: Joanne Davey
We all dream of having our cake and eating it. For those of you on paleo or low-sugar health plans, Dublin mum of four, Joanne Davey, has come to your rescue with her range of healthy and yummy snacks, Absolute Nutrition. We chatted about how she came up with the idea in the first place, it was mumspiration!
Tell me a bit about your business.
We set up just under two years ago. We make high quality protein, energy and paleo treats and snacks. The paleo part means no gluten and most of our products are dairy free. There’s basically nothing chemical added at all, and no refined sugar. So it’s all natural!
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We’re very much paleo guided, although I’m not 100% paleo in my normal life, I do feel oats are really important, lentils and beans. With our paleo guidelines we use mainly nuts, organic nut oils - such as organic coconut oil which is cold-pressed and hasn’t been heated and therefore contains no trans fats. We use honey or apricots to sweeten, and medjool dates as a sweetening ingredient. We also use almond butter. If we use chocolate, we’ll use really dark cocoa, 100% unsweetened cocoa or 70% chocolate. With just ten or twelve ingredients you can make a lot of different treats.
What was your motivation to set up the business?
I think having four kids made me more aware of what they were eating, especially when I was cooking at home. I was always interested in cooking and baking myself, which I picked up from my own mother. At home I would know exactly what the kids were eating but then if you went out shopping or anywhere with them we literally couldn’t get anything that wasn’t packed full of sugar or sitting on a shelf for God knows how long?!
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I went along to my gym and found out that they had started their own cafe, this was the same gym where they gave us really helpful plans to work from and paleo guidelines as well. But in the cafe they sold sugary cakes and bars - that made no sense to me. I was chatting to the owner one day and he said to me that he couldn’t find anything healthy, and they were limited to what they could buy in. I said that I’d make something and bring it in, I did, and it just went from there. We started off originally with a chocolate fudge protein power bar. It sounds bad for you - but it contains all nutritionally beneficial ingredients; you’re not eating empty carbs or empty sugars.
The benefits from the cocoa and coconut oils and the nuts and selenium are brilliant. They have to taste really nice; like you’re having a treat. You can make a lot of healthy stuff and it can taste boring. But if you get the balance of the healthiness and the taste right I think it’s a winner.
What is your background?
I worked for the HSE for over fourteen years, in mental health. Before that I did counselling and social studies courses. Yes, it’s completely different to what I am doing now, but at the same time, there is such a link between eating healthily and mental health. Without really ever thinking consciously about it, it’s led me to eating clean and I wanted to do a nutrition course, which I did two years ago. ‘You are what you eat’ is the motto and I think if you can work on both eating and mental health together, you can really enjoy your food and it will benefit you both mental health wise and physically.
I got onto the Food Academy last year; it’s run by Bord Bia, Local Enterprise Office and SuperValu. I applied late but thankfully got accepted. We’re in about 60 stores in Dublin now. I would say about 35 of them are SuperValu stores, and then we supply gyms, cafes, we supply to some corporate offices too on a weekly basis. The demand is becoming so great we’re trying to keep up with it.
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We’ve branched out as well, we’re in some cafes in Athlone as well. We’re going up to Navan and we’re in Kildare. We’re trying to keep the product handmade, we don’t want to outsource or get rid of our original idea, so we’re going at our own pace, but eventually we’re going to be in the whole of Leinster and hopefully nationwide in the next six to twelve months.
What have been the highs and lows of setting up your own business?
The highs have been the encouragement and feedback we receive from everyone; people really love the idea. For gyms, it’s really convenient energy-giving food, but it’s been handmade by someone using the same quality ingredients they would feed themselves. I also love meeting so many new people. I do in-store tastings and we literally stand there for hours talking to people about health and nutrition. It’s a really enjoyable job, I don’t know why I didn’t think to start it ten years ago.
We also support a lot of athletes in mixed martial arts and in GAA. So that’s enabled us to meet a lot of very cool people. We’ve met Conor McGregor, the Dublin GAA teams: both hurling and football, so it’s just brilliant. The kids come home from school and there could be anyone sitting at the table, coming over to get some treats. They love it.
The support from Food Academy was brilliant. I don’t have a business background at all, so I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but we had some mentoring sessions and they guided us through along in that sense. And also, you get to meet a group of people who are all in the same position as you. That group is still there, and we’re in contact with each other all the time, so that’s a massive support.
There’s a lady in the local office in South Dublin County Enterprise Board. She’s there for me if I need any reassurance or need to apply for anything. The most overwhelming low would be it’s all or nothing. We literally work eight days a week, there’s very little time for anything else. It can be a massive juggling act at home.
What advice would you give other moms wanting to start up their own business?
I would urge you to get as much support as you can. I’m in the position I’m in because my husband and my parents are there to help me so much. I don’t have a childminder or any domestic help, we do everything ourselves.
Having my parents right beside me - I’m just really blessed. I don’t know how people cope without support, you need a lot of it! It’s hard enough for anyone to run a business, but when you’ve got four kids there’s a lot of added pressure. You’re trying to make them feel that the business hasn’t taken over and that you still have a little bit of time for them every day.
However, for anyone thinking of starting up a business if you have an idea that you think is going to work - go for it! Because there’s always a risk doing anything. What we’ve been saying to ourselves for the last few years: ‘If you don’t do it - someone else will!’.
Do you have any tips for balancing your work and family life?
Well, when you come to the point when you’re almost at burnout and the kids are starting to dislike the business because it’s an interruption in their lives, at that point you know it’s coming and you’re waiting for the rebellion. But once it does, you need to listen to them. You need to spend time with them. Even homework and sitting down for a family dinner can make them feel like you’ve got time for them. We’ll get them ready for bed but after that we’ll go back to work until 1 or 2 am. That’s what you have to do when you start a business, be prepared. But you need to take that time out for them, otherwise they’ll start to feel neglected.
What would you say is your next step for 2016 / 2017?
We’ve outgrown the kitchen that we’re in, so we’re planning and working on our new kitchen at the moment. Once we get in there we’ve got the capacity to move forward. We have shops, stores and cafes ringing us all the time in Cork and Kerry and they’re waiting on us. We need to move into another space.
If you were to be granted three wishes for your business what would they be?
- We’d love the continued support and demand for what we do. As long as people love what we do that’s the motivation for us to keep going.
- We’d love to be nationwide where people can have a healthy treat and not feel bad about it. That’s why the tubs with the four balls in them came about. Because with the four kids they can all have something sweet and we don’t feel bad about them eating them!
- I'd like to get more involved in coaching mums about their and their children's nutrition. We also want to continue to employ local people. We employ six people, including me, right now so I'm very proud of that!
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