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New Business Venture Provides Mood Boost after Mental Health Battles

Lifestyle changes bring lockdown business success

When a difficult time in her life left Jessica Thompson struggling with mental health problems, she thought she would never be able to recover, but now she is at the helm of a new company, Benergy with her partner Ben Cochrane.

The nutritious snack company aims to bring foods to boost physical health and mental health, promoting better lifestyle and positivity.

 It all started when Jessica and Ben’s plans to hike across the Himalayas were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we first met, Ben’s health and wellbeing weren’t good and neither were mine,” she explained. “He had a dreadful diet, even though he was working as a chef. 

 “From my own perspective, my weight was fluctuating drastically over the years and it was only when Ben started to look at the internal processes, as well as the external ones, such as his diet and lifestyle, that I realised that I also needed to change the way I was living. 

 “We looked at a lot of different lifestyle changes but realised very quickly that our diet and lifestyle was the first thing that needed to change. As lockdown went on, we increasingly realised that those who were eating a clean diet were so much more active. We took a really close look at how we were living and eating.”

The link between diet and mental health is one that the couple realised was more crucial than many realise.

“Your mental health is not something to be taken lightly,” said Jessica. “Neglecting your mind can have a disastrous impact on every aspect of your life and on those of others in your life as well.

 “It was only after I’d gone through a really bad period in my life that I realised that my mind and body were in a really bad place. I couldn’t understand why one day I’d feel great, and the next I’d feel terrible.”

 After meeting, 23-year-old chef Ben Cochrane, Jessica began to look at both herself and her choices and led her to monitor what was going on in her life.

 “When I met Ben, he was starting out on his own journey where he’d started looking at his lifestyle and his diet in particular.

 “Ben had spent two years in hospitality, working as a chef for some well-known restaurants. He was working four fourteen-hour shifts a week, plus an additional half day. Most weeks he was working between 60 and 70 hours a week. 

 “We started going out on walks and began eating healthily and I began to realise how much I was able to focus on my mind and how I was feeling. 

 “I’d love to say that I just changed my diet and everything was fine,” said Jessica, who was born in Belfast, but grew up in Australia, before moving back to the province, “but that was not the case.

“It was a long, long road out of the darkness. But I am so happy to say that my sad days are becoming few and far between and my mood is the best it has been in years. 

“I do still experience panic attacks from time to time, but that is to be expected. I’m only human, but I’m always trying: the healing process is a long one.”

Jessica, whose background is in digital marketing and technical SEO, first met Ben in 2018 and realises how much their lives have changed since that first, meeting.

Spurred on by the positive changes in their own lifestyles, the couple decided to pass their new-found knowledge on to others by creating a range of breakfast pots and snacks for those ‘on-the-go’ moments.

“We’re not simply a nutrition company,” Jessica continued. “We’re all about educating people about food – particularly food that will benefit people both physically and, most importantly, mentally, because that’s where good health really begins. 

“You don’t have to be an international sports star or be heading out to the gym every day to eat the right things and get the best out of your life. Good nutrition is for everyone and should be a very basic part of everyday life.

“Our products are all plant-based, gluten and dairy free, which is very unique as vegan is the world’s fastest growing food market in the world today. We don’t just want to cater for one dietary requirement, we want to combine them all. 

“Our snacks include protein balls, healthy doppelgangers of the favourite blondies, brownies and truffles, and our new breakfast pots that have proved to be our biggest hit yet in the trials with some of Northern Ireland’s big names in personal training.

“Put simply, we want to break down the stigma around food restrictions and to provide products that can be enjoyed by everyone. Nutrition is not just for those that are involved heavily in the gym; all you have to care about is your mind and you can go from there.

“There is such a gap in the nutrition market. Products, for example, that are marketed a lot of the time aren’t great for you yet use the words ‘skinny’ and ‘high protein’ and people will opt for them even though they’re packed with other nasties and will often leave people suffering in other areas.

“It is so important to let people know that many studies have found a correlation between a diet that’s high in refined sugars and impaired brain function. While it’s important to understand this, it’s just as important to understand the benefits.”

Jessica explained that the link between healthy eating and mental wellbeing is being backed up by the science.

“Research undertaken by MIND in people suffering from depression showed that after they ate a banana they felt better,” she said. “This is because bananas contain tryptophan: a type of protein that the body turns into serotonin, which makes you relax and generally feel happier through an elevated mood.” 

The Benergy range contains a great selection of breakfast pots to start the day off well, and a fabulous mix of treats to keep people going in between meals. 

“Mental health applies to both Ben and me in different ways,” Jessica explained. “I suffered tremendously with my mental health through negative experiences, while Ben’s mental health took a hit through poor nutrition a few years ago when he was blissfully unaware and travelling, not to mention working so many crazy hours. 

“Since we got together almost three years ago, we’ve made small, consistent changes and the results have been genuinely incredible, especially in the last year.

 “I believe that physical health is just as important as mental health, but I believe that they are linked in more ways than a lot of people are aware of.

“The pressure that weight – or a lack thereof – can put on the body’s ability to function is tremendously misunderstood. Every day, I am learning something new that leaves my jaw on the floor. I think that everything starts with the mind – your perceptions, your thoughts, your function – everything happens internally first. I think getting yourself in check internally leads to a better ability to look at your physical health and reassess your goals. 

“Good nutrition is the first step to your physical health.

“The benefits to your mental health are an added bonus.”

To find out more about Benergy Nutrition and their delicious range of healthy snacks head to https://benergynutrition.com/

Food & Drink

Lidl Northern Ireland Crunches New £11 Million Supply Deal with Newtownards Producer

Pictured celebrating the announcement is Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland, John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods and Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods.

Lidl Northern Ireland has awarded Newtownards-based fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods an expanded supply deal worth £11 million – almost double its previous contract – to supply 25 new lines of fresh convenience foods across its network of 210 stores throughout the island of Ireland.

Established in 1968 by the McCann family, Willowbrook Foods is the largest salad and vegetable processing company in Ireland, operating from its two sites on the shores of Strangford Lough. The local company has been supplying Lidl Northern Ireland with premium bagged salads and fresh deli products since 2011.

The new contract with Lidl Northern Ireland represents an 83% boost on last year – taking the former £6 million annual contract to a cool £11 million – and will see 25 new product lines introduced across its premium range of ready meals, stir fry and deli salads.

Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland said:

“Lidl Northern Ireland has held a long-standing partnership with Willowbrook Foods and over the years we’ve seen the company enjoy exponential growth. As a proud supporter of local agri-food producers, we’re delighted to reaffirm our commitment to the partnership and provide a significant sales boost through this expanded new contract.

With a strong focus on new product development, Willowbrook Foods is continually innovating to introduce new lines in response to changing consumer demand. We’ve seen a real increase in demand for our fresh convenience foods range and we’re excited to now launch an expanded line of great tasting, home-grown salads, cold deli foods and stir fry meals to thousands of customers across the island of Ireland.

Through this new supply deal we’re thrilled to offer shoppers even more choice of fresh, quality convenience food at the same great value customers can expect from shopping with Lidl Northern Ireland.”

Headquartered in Killinchy, Willowbrook Foods opened its £5.5 million state-of-the-art production facility in 2011 to support its ambitious growth plans and enhance production capability. The site is also home to its dedicated New Product Development hub where it operates an innovation centre utilising the latest food production technology. In addition, the company operates a cooking facility at its site in Newtownards where it manufactures ready-meal products.

Lidl Northern Ireland crunches new £11 million supply deal with fresh food producer Willowbrook Foods: Pictured celebrating the announcement is Tanya Neilson, NPD & Hub Innovation Manager at Willowbrook Foods, Enya Rooney, Senior Buyer at Lidl Northern Ireland and John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods

John McCann, Founder and CEO of Willowbrook Foods said,

“Since the early days Willowbrook Foods has been a leader in providing premium prepared fresh vegetables and salads, cooked and ready to cook products. Over the last 50 years we have focused on mastering our craft of growing the highest quality, great tasting vegetables and continually developing our product offering.

Key to our success is our established partnership with Lidl Northern Ireland. As the region’s fastest-growing supermarket, we’ve been able to realise our ambitious growth plans, break into new markets, reach new customers and grow our brand exponentially through the partnership.

Willowbrook Foods is delighted to secure this increased supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland and embark on a new period of growth whilst providing its 300,000 weekly shoppers in the region with a fantastic new range of locally grown, quality products to enjoy.”

Since the beginning of its relationship with Willowbrook Foods in 2011, Lidl Northern Ireland’s supply deal has helped to create 100 new full-time roles, in addition to providing access to sales in the UK and Republic of Ireland markets.

Lidl Northern Ireland is a major supporter of local food suppliers.

An independent report into the economic impact of Lidl Northern Ireland’s operations revealed that the retailer spends at least £290 million annually with suppliers across the region while also supporting 3,500 jobs.

In 2020, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a £24 million contract with Fermanagh-based bakery, Crust & Crumb, to supply an expanded line of pizza products across more than 1,000 UK and Ireland stores whilst top Northern Ireland horticulturalist Greenisland Flowers secured a new supply deal with Lidl Northern Ireland to ship over four million stems of freshly cut tulips, lilies and scented stocks, building on their existing partnership worth more than £7.2 million.

Earlier this year Lidl Northern Ireland confirmed a new and expanded contract with Irwin’s Bakery after a successful 20-year partnership deal worth more than £50 million. Under the new supply deal, worth £2.7 million annually, the family-run bakery will continue to supply customer favourites including Nutty Krust batch bread, Irwin’s Veda malted loaf and Jammy Joey’s buns to Lidl stores across the island of Ireland.

In addition, Lidl Northern Ireland announced a new supply deal worth more than £500,000 with Antrim-based coffee producer, SlumberJack Coffee in 2021 to supply their premium Italian Espresso whole bean and ground coffee across all 210 Lidl stores within the island of Ireland.

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Food & Drink

Anthony Flinn Set To Cook Up A Storm With Asda at Balmoral Show

Join ASDA at this year’s Balmoral Show, taking place from 22 – 25 September and enjoy a range of cookery demonstrations from renowned chef Anthony Flinn. 

With years of experience, Anthony has worked in some of the world’s best restaurants throughout the UK and Europe including the esteemed 3 Michelin Star, El Bulli in Barcelona. Having attained 3 AA Rosettes as well as numerous regional & national accolades, Anthony has a first class reputation for creativity, quality and attention to detail.

ASDA will be situated on Alexander Avenue in the centre of the Balmoral Showgrounds and during the four days of the Show, Anthony is set to cook up a storm using the best of British beef that is readily available from local ASDA stores.

Why not try his mouth watering Dirty Burger recipe for yourself and get a taste of what the Show has to offer.

Dirty Burger Recipe (Serves 2)

  • 1 pack of ASDA Extra Special 4 Seasoned Beef Burgers
  • 2 brioche buns
  • 1 bottle of BBQ sauce
  • 2 kraft cheese slices
  • Sliced gherkins

Beef Stock Mayonnaise

  • ½ Oxo Cube
  • 100gr Good Mayonnaise

Crumb the oxo cube into a bowl and add 1tsp of warm water and mix until fully dissolved and smooth. Add the mayonnaise and mix until the stock and mayonnaise are fully incorporated.

Crispy Onions

  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2tbsp plain flour
  • Toss the sliced onions in the flour and deep fry until crispy. Season with salt.

Cheese Sauce

  • 8 kraft cheese slices.
  • 150ml double cream.
  • Warm the cream in a pan. Add the cheese slices and whisk until the cheese is fully melted and smooth.

Simple Steps

  1. Cook the burgers as per the cooking instructions on pack.
  2. Toast the burger buns.
  3. Spoon the beef stock mayonnaise on to the top and bottom halves of the burger buns.
  4. Place a burger on to the bottom half of the bun and top with cheese.
  5. Stack the second burger on top and drizzle the BBQ sauce.
  6. Add the crispy onions and finally the bun lid.
  7. Skewer through burger to stop it from tipping over.
  8. Pour the warm cheese sauce over the whole burger and serve.

The Balmoral Show will run from Wednesday 22nd September to Saturday 25th September, that’s four action packed days of family fun.  Come along and visit us this year, whether you’re from the city or countryside, a first time visitor or repeat show-goer, we hope to see you there.  Tickets are now available to purchase online at www.balmoralshow.co.uk. Please note this year tickets are day specific only and must be purchased prior to the Show. Conditions of entry can also be found online.

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