Follow The Leader: Jo Davey, Absolute Nutrition


Our series of interviews with inspirational business leaders takes on a family flavour this month as we speak to Jo Davey, founder of Absolute Nutrition.

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In just over four years, Absolute Nutrition has established itself as a firm favourite among health-conscious snack lovers – and won a whole stack of awards along the way. Not bad for a brand that began in the founder’s kitchen, with her own children essentially taking on the roles of the Dragons’ Den panel.

What’s your business’s elevator pitch?

“We’re a snack food company and we make a range of healthier snacks and treats from whole-food ingredients. Our ingredient base is nuts, seeds and nut butters, and then we sweeten them naturally with honey or dates – we make all of our snacks in our own purpose-built, gluten-free bakery in Dublin. We now supply close to 500 stockists in Ireland, as well as serving customers in the UK and Northern Ireland through our online store.”

What was the key motivation and raison d’être behind Absolute Nutrition?

“In 2013, I was working for the HSE as a PA, and my husband, James, was in construction. We have four children who were then aged two, four, six and eight, and we rarely saw each other – we felt like we were stuck in a rat race. So, we decided we would rent out our house and emigrate to Perth, Australia. It was a big decision, but we’d both been in our jobs for over 10 years and felt there were very few options for us here at the time.

“James left for the UK for a period of time to upskill for our visa, and we successfully rented our house – our dream home that we had built a few years previously – and all six of us moved into my parents’ one-bed annex. Meanwhile, I left my job, got back into my local gym and had time to cook and make snacks in the interim.

“The girls in the gym were ‘mad’ for my paleo-style clean treats and snacks; I'm good with flavours. Within a few weeks I had other local gyms contacting me to see if I would supply them. Snacking is a big part of people’s lives now, and when you spend a lot of time and money on health and wellness, you don't want to jeopardise it by eating sugar-laden ‘empty’ snacks. I was soon contacted to take part in the new Food Academy programme run by SuperValu, the Local Enterprise Offices and Bord Bia – a training programme aimed at supporting start-up food businesses – and I agreed. In the end, we never went to Australia, much to our families’ delight!”

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Looking back now at the early stages of Absolute Nutrition, would you do anything differently in terms of leadership?

“I’d like to have known earlier on about distribution models. Distribution can be a major issue as your business grows and it would have been really helpful to know more. I had absolutely no business background when I started, though. My previous job was as a PA for a consultant psychiatrist, so it was all a learning curve. Early on, I sought help from my Local Enterprise Office and I had a mentor – and that helped me to avoid making some large mistakes.”

What keeps you engaged and motivated to drive the business on?

“Everyone who has a business idea is passionate about it because no one loves your idea like you do, but the fact that people love our food, keep buying it and keep saying so many positive things about us on social media is such a buzz. They’ve followed our story from day one and their comments really push us and make it all worthwhile.

“There is an appetite for new flavours – we keep getting requests from customers – and that’s what drives me on. Our existing snack line includes Chocolate Protein Balls, Chia Superfood Energy Balls and our bestselling chocolate, date and almond-butter-based Rawlos. We plan to launch some of our new flavours after Easter including a Peanut Butter Rawlo and a Ginger Spice Bliss Ball. They are absolutely delicious, I can't wait to see what people think of them.”

“Everyone who has a business idea is passionate about it because no one loves your idea like you do, but the fact that people love our food is such a buzz”

Jo Davey, founder Absolute Nutrition

What does achievement and success look like for your business?

“Consistent sustained growth. It’s about having common sense and not biting off more than you can chew and jeopardising everyone’s job. Slow and steady wins the race, and that’s the way we’ve operated so far. There’s so much scope for us here in Ireland right now, and then obviously there’s the potential to move into the UK and then into Europe as well. What we’ve done so far is only the tip of the iceberg really.”

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

“It was before Christmas when I hit a really bad point; I was very stressed and everything seemed to be happening at the same time, and my mum said: ‘Just keep going.’ Just keep on getting up and going in, and you’ll soon find that the problem you had a few months ago is no longer a problem today.”

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

“The fact that we’re Irish-owned and produced is a massive thing for us, and we’ve won a lot of Irish food awards because we’re produced here and we create Irish employment. It’s nice to know that what started out as a little idea that came to me is important to a lot of people – and it’s still early days.”

“I’m also extremely proud to have been asked by a number of national and international companies to work on new product and recipe development and to create product ranges for them. It's a great confidence boost and affirmation that I'm good at what I love doing.”

Recommended reading: Follow the Leader: Sinead Devlin

Your approach as leader is best described in which three words?

“Self-aware – I know my strengths and weaknesses. Decisive, because decision-making really is important. And creative – I’m good at what I do on the product development side.”

Did you have a role model or mentor in business who helped you establish and grow Absolute Nutrition?

“I had a really good mentor in James Burke who runs an organisation called the Dublin Food Chain, and he’s been a massive support since day one. He helped with everything from how to set up accounts to dealing with buyers – absolutely everything. Mentors are a great idea and I would encourage any start up founder to get in touch with their Local Enterprise Office because they can offer a huge amount of support.”

How are you preparing and planning for Brexit in your business?

“Through our Local Enterprise Office in Dublin, we’ve been on a couple of courses to prepare us. We don’t sell into the UK, but because most of our ingredients come from overseas, we need to look at getting products into the country and consider the possibility of prices going sky high – that’s the main worry for us. It’s mostly a case of hanging on and seeing which way it all goes, but the waiting game is getting to everyone.”

Parting shot: what’s next for Absolute Nutrition?

“Continued growth. There are new product lines ready to add to our range – the artwork has just been completed and they’re ready to go. They’re lovely new flavours that I’ve spent time working on – and, yes, I’ve tested them on the kids. They always tell me straight if they like something or not. We are also currently working with Aramark Northern Europe on incorporating our range into their avenues, which opens up massive opportunities for us. We're really excited about this.”

You can find out more about Absolute Nutrition and its products through the website, and can follow Jo and the team on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments 1

Tara De Buitlear on Thursday, 02 May 2019 16:36

Great to hear your story Jo and the ingredients of your success - from passion to business !

Great to hear your story Jo and the ingredients of your success - from passion to business !
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