WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – LISA KLEINER & ANNA O’SULLIVAN
Lisa Kleiner is the owner and Founder of artisan organic bean-to-bar producer, Nibbed, which is based in Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow. She’s a chef by trade, as well as being a Nutritional therapist, and holds 1st class MSc in Nutrition and MSc in Food Safety Management.
Anna O’Sullivan, makes use of her background in Marketing & Digital Marketing to manage the Marketing, Design & Sales strategies for the business, which the aunt-niece duo launched together in April 2021.
Nibbed was born out of their shared passion for nutrition, diet and health.
How did your career path bring you here?
Lisa: Working as a chef gave me a deep rooted love of food. My interest in nutrition developed later when I returned to studies and became very interested in the relationship between food, health and performance. I have consulted in industry for many years in nutrition and food safety as a side business. Losing the security of my full time job, due to the Pandemic, made me re-evaluate where I wanted to go with my career and the pandemic gave me the opportunity to start Nibbed.
I have always loved working with chocolate but didn’t really fully understand what ‘bean to bar’ meant. As a business owner, it’s great to have full control over the production process, making sure that we use only the best quality ingredients and gently roasting to ensure all our products not only taste great but are good for you. I always wanted my own food business so I feel very blessed to have made the career change to become a craft chocolate maker.
Anna: I was a freelancer designing websites as well as doing some marketing for small wellness brands whilst traveling, then COVID hit and put a stop to all of that. Lisa had started talking in our family WhatsApp group about how obsessed she was with cacao husks all of a sudden. It piqued my interest as I’m a big health nut. She showed some logo designs someone had done for her, and I stepped in and said I think I could do a better job. The rest is history – I soon took on the role of marketing, design and sales and haven’t looked back.
What’s next for Lisa and Anna?
Currently we are starting to export our products and are actively growing the business. We are reviewing our current products and intend to start development on new exciting products that we hope to launch over the next 12 months. We hope to work on collaborations with like-minded brands and are starting to look at ways to reduce our carbon footprint both in certified programmes here in Ireland and in the Dominican Republic (where we ethically source all of our fairly traded and certified organic single-origin cacao beans from).
Tell us one woman in the food industry that inspires you?
Lisa: I have two, which are both recent start-ups. The first one is Cream Of The Crop. Ithink Giselle Mikinde is amazing and is at the forefront of zero waste food businesses in Ireland right now, using surplus fruits and ingredients to craft fabulous zero waste food products. The other is Grá Chocolates. Grainne Mullins’ products are stunningly beautiful and I have nothing but admiration for this young lady and wish her continued success!
Anna: Karen in Happy Tummy Co in Westport. She is so passionate about educating everyone about real bread, grains and gut health. Her passion is infectious and I am 100% behind everything that she says around our food system and how it needs a change around our perspective of food costs, ingredients and labour.
In your opinion what challenges face women in the Irish food Industry?
Lisa: Personally, I believe women find it harder to get initial investment and find investors in general. Certainly this is what we have experienced. There does however seem to be a lot of support between females in business and we are finding strong support in terms of help and advice from other females in business.
I believe more investment funds for the female food entrepreneur should be made available and should be easier to access. There is very little information on how to access funding other than the LEO and more could be done in the early stages. There is also a need for more specialised mentoring and on-site support especially in terms of exporting and online e-commerce.
What do you think can be done to raise the profile and visibility of women in the industry?
Lisa: I believe a lot more could be done in 2nd and 3rd level education in terms of attracting more females to this career path. Better apprenticeship opportunities and government support to aid these apprenticeships. Online promotion needs to be upscaled and initiatives and events that could draw women into starting a food business. Female networks and food networks are also a great way to offer support to each other.
What is the proudest moment of your career path so far?
Lisa: I have a few…walking out top of my class to receive my MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition in the University of Ulster, and my research being published in a peer reviewed journal. With regards to Nibbed it was definitely the day I walked into Brown Thomas and saw the products on display in Reuz’s recent pop-up store!
Anna: Mine would be seeing the Nibbed packaging on display in all the shops I’ve walked into across the country. I also get such a little buzz every time someone messages us on Instagram to say how much they love their cup of cacao everyday.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Lisa: Just do it! Stop worrying about what hasn’t happened yet. Take the chance and believe in yourself.
Anna: Believe in yourself more. Most people don’t know what they’re doing but they just take action and put one foot in front of the other and make it happen.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Lisa: A lot of skills are needed to manage a food business with full production. You have to do everything from ordering to cleaning. You definitely need to be an organised person and be able to plan. Planning is very important and spans the entire business from ordering to production. You need to be able to learn and grow as every day brings a new challenge that you need to overcome. Flexibility is essential to be able to change the nature of your tasks from one day to the next.
Efficiency is really important in terms of achieving goals as quickly as possible. Then of course all the day-to-day skills that are required such as production and food safety management. Professionalism is also key as you are always representing your business in every situation and lastly be able to listen and take on good advice.
Anna: Creativity and resourcefulness, because pretty much every day there is a new problem to solve. You have to be able to think on your feet and work around the challenge in a creative way. Being a jack of all trades is actually a great skill to have in a small business. I’ve learnt how to design packaging, be a food photographer, design an e-commerce website and how to create facebook ads all simply by googling how it’s done and just being determined that I will succeed.
Are you a savoury or sweet kinda person? Please tell us about a real treat?
Lisa: Definitely savoury – I love dark chocolate and cheese boards!
Anna: I’m probably more savoury. I love good sourdough bread, with garlicky sauteed greens – pretty simple, but such a treat.