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27th May 2017

Meet the healthy eating mumpreneur of the moment: Erica Sheehan of Homespun

Travel can be wonderful for so many good reasons.

It takes us away from everyday life for a while, it is relaxing, invigorating and exciting. It broadens our horizons and, often, fills us with ideas and inspirations that might not have come to us had we stayed at home.

This was certainly the case for Erica Sheehan of delicious, healthy food brand Homespun, who, on a holiday to California in 2013, realised she wanted to try a new path and do something serious about her love of healthy, wholesome food.

We recently sat down with the busy mum-of-one (Erica’s delicious Quinoa Crunch is now stocked in 200 Supervalu stores across Ireland, as well as many independent healthfood stores and even in Harrods in London – where health-conscious Brits are loving her tasty product) to talk great ideas, good food andgiving your dreams a go.

How did you get started

After graduating from college, I worked in TV before moving into PR, but I always loved the idea of starting my own business. But it wasn’t until I went on holiday to California in 2013 with Michael, then my boyfriend and now my husband, that I became inspired to start Homespun.

We both absolutely loved the amazing healthy food scene we discovered in California. After spending a month there we came back home to Ireland feeling so energised and positive. I felt really inspired by the experience and knew I’d be making career changes as soon as I had a plan. I didn’t know specifically what I was going to do but I’d made the decision in my head.

After we got back, I became a lot more interested in cooking from scratch and especially in whole foods and the benefits of plant-based proteins versus animal sources of protein. A book called the China Study really influenced my thinking. It’s based on studies carried out in rural China and it totally challenges the conventional wisdom about nutrition and highlights the health benefits of a plant-based diet. I now stick to plant-based sources of protein such as quinoa, pulses and seeds like chia seeds and consume very little animal protein.

How did Quinoa Crunch come about?

At the time cookbooks were still pretty mainstream – think Delia, Nigella and so on, and I started looking at blogs for plant-based recipes. The idea for Homespun came from food blogs like My New Roots, which I take inspiration from. I’m a big believer in the nutrition benefits of quinoa – I use it a lot in cooking. I noticed blogs featured recipes for quinoa based cereals and snacks but there were no real products on the market, certainly none in Ireland.

In my kitchen, I started to develop recipes for a quinoa granola or Quinoa Crunch as I started calling it. When they got the thumbs up from friends and family, I tested them out at a local farmer’s market to gauge demand. The experiment was successful – everyone loved the taste and the idea of a nutritious quinoa-based alternative to regular granola.

This was 2014. I was still in my 9 to 5 job in PR and I was doing the farmers market at weekends and baking every night during the week on top. It was tough – I’d literally collapse with exhaustion by the time Saturday night rolled around – but it was worth it. The positive response in the market gave me the confidence to start planning a retail launch.

Tell us more about Homespun Quinoa Crunch

Quinoa Crunch is a nutritious twist on granola made from popped quinoa and seeds, nuts and berries. It’s gluten, wheat and refined sugar free. It’s made with coconut oil which gives it a gorgeous aroma and it tastes amazing sprinkled on yoghurt, porridge and smoothie bowls – so everyone says!

There are two flavours: pecan and cranberry; and gojiberry, cashew and coconut and they retail at €5.99. Sadly, a lot of granola contains highly processed grains, refined sugar and additives, but that has created the gap for us. Ours doesn’t contain any cheap fillers or syrups and consumers often compliment us on the natural texture and taste.

When did you launch Homespun?

I launched in June of 2016 – initially into a limited number of independent retailers such as Avoca and Donnybrook Fair, and health stores like the Happy Pear and the Hopsack. These smaller-scale retailers are very supportive of other small food businesses.

During last autumn, I signed up more stockists and also agreed a distribution deal so our products could be listed in health stores nationwide.

Were there any challenges along the way?

Lots, but easily the biggest challenge of all was having a baby in the middle of trying to get the business off the ground in mid-2015.

Combining business planning with caring for a newborn was challenging, especially as a first-time mum. I’d be feeding while on phone calls and arriving into meetings a buggy in tow, nappies in one hand, spreadsheets in the other and praying she wouldn’t wake up! But people are lovely and you just plough on.

In terms of ongoing challenges, food is a competitive space, margins are tight and you need volume. Building a brand takes time and resources. The business is young and while I hope it will grow in time, it’s still just me running it.

Biggest thrill to date

There are two: Homespun launched in Harrods in January and that’s definitely been a huge thrill. Harrods is our first UK stockist and to sit in their stunning food hall alongside world class brands feels amazing.

A second highlight was just last week when Homespun won two Gold medals at the ‘Free From Food Awards’. The judges taste-tested all the entries blind and rated them according to taste, nutrition texture and flavour, it’s a very thorough process. They loved both of our flavours and couldn’t decide which they preferred so they gave us gold for both. Those moments make the hard work worthwhile.

How do you juggle running a business with being a mum?

In the exact same way as any working parent does; you just muddle through and do your best. My husband Michael is great, he is very hands on with our little girl, Katie, who is almost two now. We tag team a lot.

In ways being my own boss makes it’s easier. I’ve a lovely office at home so there’s no commute which saves time. Plus, if she needs me, I don’t need to ask anyone else for time off. That being said, it’s pretty full on all the time. In the evenings, I’ll be on the laptop catching up. There’s very little me-time, but I absolutely love what I do. Occasionally I have to work weekends and I do get ‘mommy guilt,’ so I try to limit it.

When you’ve got your own business, it’s easy to fall into the trap of overworking at the expense of your health. I like to break up my day by taking a spin class at lunchtime and I love decompressing in my kitchen – switching some music on, looking at recipes and making dinner. We live near the sea so I love running on the pier. Catching up with my girlfriends is important too. Laughter and time-out put things in perspective.

How is the business going?

Thankfully, it’s going really well. This month we’ve gone on shelves in 200 Supervalu stores nationwide, in the Food Academy section. We’ve had great support from Supervalu who have also featured Homespun in their latest TV ad with the Happy Pear.

They are really great at supporting local Irish food producers. My journey has also been made easier through other resources I’ve been able to tap into from Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, and my Local Enterprise Office. There is huge interest in healthier food now, and that’s given the business a lot of momentum.

Tell us about what you eat and how you stay healthy with so much going on

With the food, it is about prep and having healthy things on hand. I stick to a mainly plant-based diet, and my trick is to ensure the fridge is really well stocked with fresh and healthy food. It’s got to be appealing so lots of good hummus, pesto, organic fresh vegetables and nice fruits. I love fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi which are amazing for gut health and taste great in salads. I make bread from quinoa, psyllium husks, flax seeds and coconut oil, which I slice and freeze and take out as needed. And my

I also love fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi which are amazing for gut health and taste great in salads. I make bread from quinoa, psyllium husks, flax seeds and coconut oil, which I slice and freeze and take out as needed. And my go-to snack of Greek yoghurt sprinkled with Quinoa Crunch and berries keeps me on track during the evening danger zone.

Are you planning on developing any new products?

Yes, right now we’re in the middle of new product development – we’d like to create snack versions of Quinoa Crunch as our customers keep saying they want the same taste on the go, not just at home, which is nice to hear!

What is next for Homespun Foods?

We’ve just won some exciting new business with a UAE-based retailer, and that will be our first proper move into export markets. Through Bord Bia, we are meeting retailers from other larger markets and hopefully we will start scaling soon.

Longer term, I’d like to see Homespun offering a much wider range of products blending plant-based proteins and other superfoods so consumers can enjoy delicious convenient cereals and snacks knowing they’re nourishing their bodies at the same time. Giving more people the chance to eat good food that is also good for them is what we are all about.