Healthy Snack Pioneer Forest Feast Takes To The Road To The Road To Drive Faster Growth In Sales

Bronagh Clarke, Marketing Director of Forrest Feast in Craigavon talks to Sam Bulter about initiative to drive sales of the company’s snacks.

Bronagh Clarke admits an innovative initiative to drive sales of Northern Ireland’s most successful snack products initially proved to be “a bit of a challenge”. A smart marketing move has seen Craigavon-based Forest Feast exploring new business here, in the Republic of Ireland and further afield by taking to the road in a converted VW camper van!

“The biggest challenge we’ve found is actually driving the van,” Bronagh, marketing director of Kestrel Foods, the company behind the multi-award winning Forest Feast branded range of original healthy snacks,” says.

“The van wasn’t the easiest to handle at first because it was made in 1973, is left-hand drive and lacks the power-steering and power braking that we all now take for granted. We brought it from Germany and it’s completely roadworthy with low mileage on the clock but just not that easy to manoeuvre. However, we’ve all mastered driving the van and it’s already featured at a number of shows,” adds Bronagh.

The iconic van was subsequently transformed by the company into a ‘street food’ wagon with a retractable serving hatch and distinctive livery. It’s becoming a regular feature at food festivals and other public events the length and breadth of the island.

The livery, Bronagh explains, reflects the company’s ethos as the ‘original snack explorers’. “Our strategic focus is on exploring the globe, finding, crafting and creating extraordinary snacks such as the delicious dried mango, one of our original products and still among the most popular,” adds Bronagh, an experienced strategic marketer with a wealth of experience in the food industry in Ireland.

The company has been searching the world for ingredients for tasty, premium and innovative snacks since its foundation by husband and wife team Michael and Lorraine Hall in 1996.

The company continues to set the pace in Northern Ireland in the creative marketing of healthy fruit, seeds and nuts including a unique range of tasty Super Fruit Shapes for children and young people and a quirky quartet of flavoured peanut snacks for the current Rugby World Cup in Japan aimed at fans of Ireland, England, New Zealand and host nation Japan.

The VW camper is another creative direction for the company which now sells a portfolio of snacks to almost 40 global markets, making the family business one of Northern Ireland’s leading exporters.

“Our company culture has always been underpinned by a dedication to innovation in all aspects of the business. We are always exploring new ways of doing things differently to provide customers with original and healthy snack ideas,” Bronagh, who returned last week from taking part in Anuga, the big international food event in Cologne, continues. The company, a Food NI member, has a longstanding commitment to exports and participation in major trade shows.

A further and colourful example of this approach, the camper van has taken to the road to help increase awareness of the company and its impressive portfolio of snacks especially among a younger marketplace concerned about naturally healthy foods especially snacks. “We are keen to develop greater brand awareness in the UK and Ireland, two immensely important markets for us,” she says.

Taking part in major public events such as the recent National Ploughing Championships in Co Carlow and the many food festivals in Northern Ireland is enabling the progressive and ambitious company to engage directly with consumers and introduce them to the Forest Feast identity and, of course, the range and provenance of all the snacks it produces in a state-of-the-art plant. “The events, in addition, provide opportunities for us to obtain feedback for us to factor into our thinking about new products and marketing,” she adds.

The van takes the successful company back to its roots, to the days when Michael and Lorraine Hall started the snack business by taking part in food markets in Ireland.

Ethical trading has been at the heart of the business since those days. It’s an approach that includes a longstanding partnership with PREDA, a social development organisation, through which it helps mango growers in the Philippines to enjoy a better quality of life. The company was ahead of the field in its commitment to ethical trading. And it’s now a commitment which shapes the thinking of younger consumers in particular.

What also helps the company stay ahead in intensely competitive global markets is the strength of its investment in new product development and its speed of reaction to market trends and opportunities in the burgeoning healthy snacking category.

A pioneering product range, Acti-Snack has also captured the imagination of fitness fans by offering ‘energy on the go’ through healthy mixed fruit, nut and seed snacks in convenient and re-sealable packs.

The entire range is gluten free, free from artificial additives and preservatives and designed to meet a variety of sports nutrition requirements. A new factory has been built to enable the company to meet the growing international demand for the innovative snack.

Growing global success has also led to a string of major industry awards for this enterprising local business including being named as one of Ireland’s ‘Best Managed’ companies in the Deloitte Best Managed Companies Awards Programme as well as a string of UK Great Taste Awards.