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The project is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)

Cross-border business-university collaboration enables new plant based snack development for Sillis Green Veg

Sillis Green Veg products

For family-owned and run Monaghan based business, Sillis Green Veg Limited, gaining Co-Innovate funding meant looking at the bigger picture for the company while developing their new product development project.

Founded in 1997, Sillis have primarily been involved in the production, distribution and retail of raw prepared vegetables, ready-to-eat fruit convenience packs, vegetable meal accompaniments and fresh soup mixes, for the catering and retail industry. As a leading Irish fruit and veg manufacturer, they are ideally positioned to enter into the plant-based retail market, which is recognised as the fastest growing food sector, growing year on year by 16%, according to Bord Bia.

When applying to Co-Innovate, Sillis outlined an objective, propelled by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, to reduce its business growth reliance on the food service sector and diversify its product range to enable export, by developing a selection of vegan and vegetarian plant-based snacks for sale into Irish and European markets. Being accepted onto the Co-Innovate programme resulted in the company partnering with the University of Ulster Coleraine to assist with market research and organoleptic testing on the food products under development.

Project manager, Helen Dunn, who was recruited by Sillis through Co-Innovate to develop and implement the project, says the company benefitted as a whole from its involvement in the programme. “The major advantage for a small company like Sillis was that Co-Innovate doesn’t just work with you on your project, they encourage you to look at the bigger picture for your company,” said Helen. “Sillis has benefited as a whole from the mentoring and guidance we received developing the products and packaging. The Co-Innovate programme and mentors also helped us identify and implement processes and good working practices that have now been embedded in the company from the top down,” she added.

Sillis collaborated with the University of Ulster to create an online market research survey to identify what food occasion wasn’t being fulfilled by existing products and ensure their new product development plans met the needs of the market. The research found that outside the market leaders there was a distinct lack of vegetarian snacks or vegetarian meal accompaniments for the lunch time ‘on the go meal’ occasion. When their new products were in development, Sillis were able to access the university’s state of the art research facilities to carry out organoleptic food product testing.

“Partnering with the University of Ulster through Co-Innovate was really valuable for Sillis,” said Helen. “We would never have been able to approach the university to do a market research survey of that scale if we hadn’t had links with Co-Innovate. We would also never have been able to access their facilities and researchers. They were able to carry out industry recognised theoretical nutritional testing for us on our sample products, which was extremely valuable,” she said.

Sillis developed four new seasonal vegetarian and vegan ‘on the go’ lunchtime products through their Co-Innovate project and brought them to sample stage with several leading supermarkets who are interested in trialing them. Sillis are also exploring extending the shelf life of products through other techniques so that they can supply some of their products to food service. They have also recruited a technical placement student through their new university connections which is helping them train up the next generation of employees.

“Co-Innovate has opened up so many opportunities for Sillis,” said Helen “The mentors have a wealth of knowledge, contacts and resources on both sides of the border that we were able to tap into and the relationships and support offered by the project team are ongoing. If you have a query or knowledge need, the Co-Innovate team will help facilitate potential resources avenues.

“The project has been extremely beneficial for Sillis. It has helped increase the skill and knowledge base of the company and enabled new avenues to be identified. The whole process of the project has allowed Sillis to see that with the right people and resources in place, Sillis can create new products and grow the business in different markets, and the Co-Innovate team have given Sillis the confidence, skills and processes to do that.”

This cross-border project was made possible through the Co-Innovate programme, which is supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).

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