Q&A with Sabine Hobbel of Leaves

In this special issue, we talk to Sabine Hobbel, newly-crowned ‘Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ by LEO Dublin City’s Women in Business Network.Sabine Hobbel of Leaves

On today’s menu, we discuss challenging perceptions around healthy food, the climate for start-ups in Dublin and winning accolades with the co-founder of Leaves, Sabine Hobbel.

Set up by Sabine Hobbel and Nicola Olivieri in December 2013, Leaves is a Smithfield-based food company, that challenges the perception that healthy food cannot taste great (www.leavespurefood.com).

See their exclusive readers’ offer at the end of this interview.


Sabine, congratulations on the recent award from LEO Dublin City. Good healthy food is obviously very important to you and is at the core of your business - where did you first develop an interest in food?

Thanks to my mother, who bought unusual products from health food stores for our family while growing up in the States, as she liked to make sure we were eating healthy products.

My interest in food increased when I studied in Tasmania (Australia), where I was introduced to the concept of Farmers’ Markets, where my friends and I would enjoy the local produce on Saturdays.

When I lived in Edinburgh and later in Amsterdam, I was lucky enough to taste many dishes from various ethnic cuisines which helped to broaden my palate.

You’ve just celebrated your first year in business, so where did the idea for Leaves come from and did you find the first year of trading?

My husband, Nico, and I had moved to Dublin in 2013 in order to start our business together.

Nico had previously owned an Italian café with catering services in Amsterdam and we knew that we wanted to continue in the food industry as my background was in health studies.

Our first year in business has been incredible and we have achieved a great amount in such a short time-frame. Considering that we just started trading in December 2013, we are proud to say that we already have four people on our payroll.

All of our products have been received extremely well, both by industry experts and consumers alike, which is a wonderful feeling.

I am proud to have won the ‘Best Female Entrepreneur’ Award from LEO Dublin City as a recognition for our hard work; Nico was a finalist in ‘Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur - Dublin Start-Up’, and our pasta made it to the top 10 of ‘LovinDublin's Best Irish Food 2014’.

Tell us more about the business - what products or services do you provide and who are your customers?

We believe in creating healthy and delicious food products and we currently operate in three different fields: corporate catering, contract manufacturing and producing our own line of branded products.

We started as a corporate caterer, providing offices with special dinners, lunch platters and high-end finger food. Next to this, we are a contract manufacturer, providing meals for different establishments such as Fresh – The Good Food Market Supermarkets, Block T and BodyProject.

We are also very excited about our own line of branded products, as we’ve started providing our Irish Artisan Pasta to different retail outlets throughout the country. The pasta currently comes in three flavours: buckwheat and truffle; spelt and hempseed; rye and seaweed, with more flavours on the way.

Food is a very competitive sector in Ireland, so what makes Leaves different to other food companies?

Our versatility: we are not just a catering company but operate in three different fields: food manufacturing for third parties and own branded products next to our catering services.

Our catering services are different from other catering companies in that we believe that food should be both delicious and good for you. We think you should not have to suffer physically from eating something that tastes good, or eat bland and boring products in order to receive health benefits.

Each of our products is only released after extensive research, both in terms of culinary and nutritional elements. We love to amaze people by showing the possibilities food has, we pride ourselves on delivering highly creative products.

Have you had any ‘breakthroughs’ in your first year of business?

We worked incredibly hard during our first year and have seen many successes, such as winning several manufacturing contracts including one for Fresh – The Good Food Market Supermarkets.

We were also successful in securing various loans and grants, which have helped us to grow our business in the way we envisioned, we’ve also participated in multiple training academies backed by the Irish Government, through which, we made great business connections.

We started off with just Nico and I; now, we have two qualified chefs in our autonomously-running kitchen in Dublin City, while we focus on growing our company further.

And of course, a great personal success this year was that we were able to welcome the birth of our son, Aidan, in September 2014.

You only moved to Dublin in 2013, so were there any extra challenges in setting up a business here in the Capital?

I believe that Dublin has a great climate for setting up a business. People here are generally open to new ideas, Government and EU support is widely available for start-ups and everybody speaks English.

The only challenge for us was that we had to build our network from scratch. However, we found that most people are very helpful and talkative, so this did not prove to be a challenge for long.

What does 2015 hold for Leaves?

In 2015, we expect to continue to grow rapidly, both in turnover and in number of employees.

We will be promoting our corporate catering more, which is really beginning to take off.
We are in negotiations around new food manufacturing contracts, for both warm and chilled products. We will further promote our new ‘Irish Artisan Pasta’ range, which will be sold in 20 more shops in January 2015.

How have the Local Enterprise Office Dublin City supported your business so far?

We have found the LEO Dublin City to be wonderful in their support for our business. We’re on their mentor programme, so we frequently meet with a financial expert.

Through the LEO, we won a place at the Food Academy programme, where we learned so much from both business and food experts. We also secured a grant through the LEO, which allowed our business to take off even faster.

We have met many knowledgeable people through the Women in Business Network as well as through the Dublin Food Chain Events.

With the first year of business now behind you, what advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs, who may be thinking of starting their own business?

Make sure you surround yourself with people who believe in you and in your project, as this will make you far more likely to succeed.

Also, ask for advice from peers and experts, as this can help you prevent making common mistakes.

Our thanks to Sabine Hobbel for taking part in this interview and for offering an exclusive offer for readers (see below).

For more information on Leaves, please visit www.leavespurefood.com or find them on Facebook at facebook.com/leavespurefood or on Twitter at twitter.com/leavespurefood

GET 10% DISCOUNT ON CORPORATE CATERING (for events on or before 30.04.15)

To help start-ups and SMEs impress clients and investors by creating a welcoming atmosphere with food and drinks, Leaves are offering readers an exclusive offer.

Get 10% discount on all corporate catering orders, for events or meetings taking place on or before April 30th 2015.

Start-ups and SMEs in Dublin can avail of this exclusive offer by mentioning this code, when placing the order with Leaves: ‘WINNER10%’.