13 Sep, 2023

Harvesting Change: The Siblings Behind BiaSol and Circular Food Co

In 2020, amidst a world striving for change, two siblings, Ruairi and Niamh Dooley embarked on a remarkable journey. With hearts set on transforming the world of nutrition and battling the blight of food waste, they breathed life into their brainchild, BiaSol. This venture was more than a business; it was a calling.

As time flowed, so did the passion and effort of Ruairi and Niamh, and by 2022, BiaSol had blossomed into a team of nine dedicated individuals. Its reach extended beyond imagination, supplying the shelves of over 200 Irish stores and even gracing the aisles of Holland & Barrett in the UK.

Yet, the Dooley siblings' ambitions refused to be contained. This year, they unveiled Circular Food Co. (CFCO), a testament to their evolution. CFCO was more than a mere extension; it was a new realm of possibilities. No longer content with just nourishing through BiaSol, they aspired to forge a path for nutritious, flavourful up-cycled foods, not only for themselves but for an entire spectrum of brands, producers, and private labels.

The ifac Food and Agribusiness team recently caught up with Ruairi Dooley to find out more.

What does Sustainability mean for your business?

Everything! It is our business model. It's staggering when you realise that 30 - 40% of food produced at manufacturing level doesn't reach our plates. Our mission is to see this food waste be repurposed into functional ingredients that can benefit the whole food industry. 

Success for us is not based on profit but on the amount of tonnes of food waste we can upcycle. So far we've converted over 70 tonnes of food waste into tasty high fibre products. Our current goal is to help upcycle 1 million tonnes of surplus, by-products or waste.

How have you brought core sustainability factors to life within your business?

From day one we decided to let sustainability guide our decisions. Every business choice confronts one question: does it positively combat climate change? If not, we seek better alternatives. 

Many companies have long focused solely on financial gains. A good example of companies striving to make a difference are those that are members of B Corp. Next year we will become a B Corp certified company.

Under the BiaSol brand we set a sustainability benchmark in retail: our ingredients derive from circular processes, and our packaging is home compostable. 

Sure, it costs more to do this, but the cost of not doing it is far greater. We hope more can follow our footsteps.

What are the biggest challenges for food businesses to be more sustainable?

The major barrier is cost! Startups like ours can prioritise sustainability from the onset, but established companies face serious challenges. Older infrastructures, set margins, and legacy production lines make sustainable transitions costly and time intensive. It's not going to happen overnight, but they should still be allocating a percentage of spend to enable this transition.

As climate change intensifies, consumers are inspecting their purchases more closely, from sourcing to packaging. Speaking of which, packaging remains a significant challenge. Sustainable options are limited, and unless you're a large producer, minimum order quantities on new sustainable solutions can be prohibitive.

What advice, based on your experience to date, would you share with other businesses looking to progress their sustainability journeys? 

Every food business should have a sustainability plan in place and if they are not Bord Bia Origin Green members they need to start that journey as soon as possible. Start now, the sooner you do it the better. Leaving it on the long finger will only make it more challenging. Look at it this way, if you launch a product and have a margin of 40% it is going to be very difficult to come back a year later and switch to a compostable solution that results in a margin of 35%.

Build in the costs early before launching, it's much more achievable. 

If you're not sure where to start with a sustainability plan, touch base with Enso Initiatives. They are doing a fantastic job of helping Irish food companies develop sustainability plans and educating decision makers on the importance of sustainability in decision-making.

This interview was conducted as part of our 2023 Food & Agribusiness Report.