A former stock trader now based in the North West has swapped her career as a high-flying investor in the financial markets to invest in her own business producing natural and nutritious traditional beef and chicken stock using local ingredients.
Carol Banahan is the first business client based in the new Foodovation Centre at North West Regional College in Derry whose high-tech facilities have enabled her to expand production of her product line, Carol’s Stock Market, which has no additives or preservatives. Her traditionally made natural stock products sold out at the recent Slow Food Festival organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council as part of its programme of events supporting Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016.
A native of Dublin, Carol enjoyed a successful career with the investment management arm of one of Canada’s largest banks before moving back to Ireland three years ago. She now lives in Greencastle, Co Donegal with her husband Neil McParland from Derry who is a therapeutic radiographer at the state-of-the-art new radiotherapy unit which is scheduled to open soon at Altnagelvin Hospital.
While she may have retired from the cut and thrust of the investment banking world and stepped away from the stock trading desk, Carol has no intention of slowing down her stock making and the Foodovation Centre under the direction of Chef Brian McDermott has become her new workplace coinciding with Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 which is celebrating its ‘Legacy and Learn To’ theme during the month of November.
Carol, who lived for many years in Toronto before spending six years in Vancouver, continued: “I had an entirely different life in Canada but had enough of that world. I had a burning desire to move back home to Ireland and do something different. I have always had a serious passion for food and nutrition and just under three years ago myself and my husband left everything behind to move back.
“With making such a massive life change I had to take some time to figure out what I wanted to do. I spent my time going to cookery school and learning nutrition. As I was in investment management all my career I wanted to have some credentials because I knew I would ultimately get into some kind of food business.
I set up Carol’s Stock Market because I absolutely love making stock. I have made my own stock for many years and knew there was a gap in the market as I couldn’t get any natural stock anywhere; there are plenty of stock cubes on the market and other processed products. I thought long and hard about it and decided to give it a try. I started to do my own research and that took several months as well.
Carol completed a certificate course at the Dublin Cookery School two years ago and last year she studied with the Irish Institute for Health and Nutrition in Wicklow, achieving an Advanced Diploma in Health and Nutrition Coaching. She also completed a Start Your Own Food Business course with the support of the Local Enterprise Office in Donegal in 2015.
“I made my first foray into selling my stock at Letterkenny Artisan Market last March. At that point I had gone through all the Environmental Health hoops and was able to produce it from my home kitchen. I did various markets including Harry’s in Bridgend. I ultimately realised this could have its limits as producing stock is a very long process; it is very much a Slow Food product and I decided this business won’t survive if I don’t get into a commercial grade kitchen.
“You can’t live around here and not know who Brian McDermott is and before I even knew anything about the North West Regional College I contacted Brian last April/May; we arranged to meet for a chat and I brought him some samples. I left his house that night full of optimism and excitement because he said no-one else was doing this in the North West and probably not in the whole country to any great extent. He said it was a good product and told me about the Foodovation Centre. He said I would be a really good candidate for the Centre.
“He was fantastic, he kept in touch over the summer and came to see me making the stock. He could see the passion I have as my stock is made in a very traditional way. We worked on putting a recipe together; he was so giving of his time and that really encouraged me to move forward. While waiting for the Foodovation Centre to open I was selling and delivering my stock locally through word of mouth but was very limited to how much I could produce.”
Since moving into the Foodovation Centre just over a month ago, Carol has been able to substantially upscale production in its custom built kitchen which is fitted with the latest high-tech equipment, chilling and laboratory facilities, together with product development mentoring and support.
She explained: “I do need ongoing support and there have been several other people at the College in addition to Brian who have been extremely helpful in helping turn this into a viable business rather than just a hobby in my home kitchen. It is still early stages, we are still working through certain logistics but it is going very well and the amazing support from the College has opened up a whole new market to me.”
Carol’s Stock Market – which comes in smartly designed 500mls spout pouches for easy pouring – is available in a number of local butchers and delis, with plans for expansion nationwide. As it is freshly made, the stock has a short shelf life but can be frozen without losing any of its flavour or nutritional value.
Carol continued: “I have my eye on the whole Irish market and have to spread my wings to really get the word out there. The product has so much potential, it could be a product for chefs to use in the kitchen and at demos. I am keeping a very open mind and very receptive to all sorts of ideas.”
Being a stock broker is a different kind of area of investment but I am a businesswoman and that comes in handy when starting your own business, even if it is a different line of work. It is very humbling for me and an absolute joy to be learning something new every day. It has been a great journey, even to this stage.
Carol anticipates that demand for her product is likely to double as production increases. “I am ready for the next stage. I am absolutely passionate about the product but also the fact that Derry, Donegal and the whole Irish food scene in the North West is going from strength to strength. The timing for a product like this is good; people are starting to look at healthier alternatives and this has a massive health angle as it is such a healthy and healing type of product which has no salt or sugar and is gluten-free, dairy-free and syn-free.
“There is a massive amount of salt and sugar in processed stock, even in some of the organic products. There are two to three different forms of sugar in some stock cubes and sugar really has no business being in soups or stews. I source my chicken from Inishowen and my beef bones are sourced from Donegal animals. As the business grows it will always be Irish ingredients.”
Mary Blake, Tourism Development Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council which is actively supporting Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016, said she was delighted that the new Foodovation Centre was now available to assist innovative businesses like Carol’s Stock Market with product development and enable them to reach new commercial markets.
“The state-of-the-art Foodovation Centre under the expert guidance of Chef Brian McDermott and North West Regional College’s Business Support Centre team is a fantastic asset to have here in the city and we look forward to exciting developments for new and established entrepreneurs bringing their products to market,” she added.