For every three bags of groceries we buy, one of them ends up in the bin, costing households up to €1,000 per year on food waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
On top of that, the house cook will spend, on average, nine hours cooking and 2.5 hours food shopping per week.
In 2009, Sian Breslin, a professional home economist, and her son Vincent set about cutting back on food waste and time spent in the kitchen. The result is Sian’s Plan, an online meal planner.
Sian’s Plan offers simple, healthy recipes, most of which take less than 35 minutes to prepare. It also automatically generates a shopping list that can be printed, emailed or used to shop online.
By providing complete nutritional information and a calorie count for every dish, Sian’s Plan also aims to tackle obesity in Ireland and the UK.
The Breslins’ idea came from humble beginnings in Sian’s cookery school in Donegal town. "The recession had just kicked in. Mums and dads were working harder for less money and needed support getting healthy meals on the table for their families within their time and budget constraints," said Vincent.
Sian spent a few years researching and testing her colour-coded weekly plans, which include days off from cooking and days for cooking leftovers so nothing goes to waste. It went down well at the cookery school yet, up to 2011, the system was still paper-based.
“I was working in a digital consultancy in London and realised the potential that an online version of Sian’s Plan would have so decided to help out part-time," said Vincent.
Following a soft launch, the online product (www.siansplan.com) hit the Irish market in 2012. Vincent left his job and joined the New Frontiers Enterprise Development Programme. By the end of the year, Sian’s Plan had closed a funding round of €300,000 through E-Synergy, angel investors and support from Invest NI.
A good year
The last year has been another good one for Sian’s Plan. "(The year) 2013 is the year where we became a real business, in my eyes," said Vincent. "Up until that point, I was working from my bedroom in Bethnal Green (a district in east London) and spent as much time learning what we needed to do to run a successful business as we did trying to run it."
Eventually, the mother-and-son team moved their base to Belfast and hired two more staff members. The company also earned recognition from The Irish Times Fusion programme and emerged as a finalist in the ESB Spark of Genius start-up competition.
Today, in Ireland, Sian’s Plan has reached almost 5,000 subscribers. The next move: securing €120,000 of investment to fund the company’s entry into the British market.
Sian’s Plan now has an office in London and is focused on developing partnerships in the UK. Growth doesn’t come without financial backing, though, and Sian’s Plan is no exception.
Rather than go down the traditional route of meeting with and pitching to investors, Sian’s Plan has turned to Seedrs, a crowdfunding investment platform for early stage start-ups, offering 12.5% equity to funders from the European investment community.
“We see crowdfunding as a fantastic way to build stronger ties to our community and to reward our early adopters," said Vincent. "We’re a consumer-focused business, so the idea of having more than 100 supporters with a share of the business out there promoting and sharing what we are doing is very exciting."
Cleverly, Sian’s Plan can also use its crowdfunding process to assess the market. "We see crowdfunding as a ‘go big or go home’ test for Sian’s Plan. We want our target market to invest in our business.
If they are not interested, then maybe we need to change direction," said Vincent.
Investment in Sian’s Plan could fund new features, such as integration with smart fridges and fitness tech, such as Nike FuelBand, or even 3D-printed kitchen utensils – the technological possibilities are endless, and this family business is not afraid to take them on.
After two weeks on Seedrs, Sian’s Plan has already achieved half of its funding goal. If all goes well, the €120,000 raised will form part of a larger €350,000 funding round to establish the brand in the UK, release a mobile app, and add more staff at the Belfast and London offices.
In terms of the future, Sian’s Plan already has plans for infiltrating the US and Australian markets this year. "We also look forward to expanding from the family market into the young professional, student, and corporate health and wellness markets," Vincent added.
A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 16 February
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