Thanks Plants

Thanks Plants 1

Dinner Time Inspiration

We all like to give our kids wholesome food to eat. As a vegan, Aisling Cullen started to serve up some shop-bought vegan products for her own children, only to meet with the objections of her partner: ‘These contain more complicated ingredients than regular food products!!’ And he wasn’t wrong - many ‘mock-meat’ products contain complex ingredients like methyl cellulose and red iron oxide. Therein lay the inspiration for Aisling to start experimenting and making some of her own plant-based products.

Aisling’s focus was very much on simple and transparent ingredients like legumes, grains, vegetables, spices and seitan, a high-protein flour. Before long, an initial range of sausages - Apple & Sage, Sundried Tomato & Herb, Frankfurter – was born, aimed at the growing number of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians. SuperValu and a wide range of independent food stores were quick to adopt the Thanks Plants range which you will now also find in Tesco.


From Home Kitchen to Production at Scale

Any food entrepreneur will tell you about the challenges of moving from cooking up a few sample products in your home kitchen to producing the volumes needed to satisfy major retail customers. The regulatory requirements around premises and processes for food production are complex, and initial capital costs for fit-out and equipment can be hefty. Aisling was delighted to secure a small production unit in Spade Enterprise Centre – home to multiple food businesses and a good place to learn all about setting up a food business.

Aisling looks back on how she sought out a whole range of supports: invaluable mentoring from the Local Enterprise Office, as well as Priming Funding towards salaries. The Food Works Programme delivered by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc proved inspirational, with direct access to highly successful food entrepreneurs. The New Frontiers Programme for high-potential start-ups provided a combination of training, mentoring and financial support – all crucial in shaping the business for scale.


Growing through Innovation and Investment

Aisling quickly recognised that her initial product range would not be enough to achieve significant growth. Retailers were already asking for a wider selection of offerings and the first of those was to be the Festive Roast – aimed specifically at helping customers overcome the challenge of having a tasty and wholesome plant-based option for Christmas dinner. The Festive Roast flew off the shelves and sold well online, and was quickly followed by an Everyday Roast, with all-year-round sales potential. NoMooo Burgers are the most recent addition to the range.

It quickly became apparent that the business would need significant investment in order to scale up to satisfy demand in Ireland and to exploit export opportunities overseas. In 2022, the company secured €700k of investment from Enterprise Ireland and the Redesdale Food Fund, providing a strong platform for the expansion of Thanks Plants in the coming years.



From Solo Entrepreneur to a Team Venture

In the early says of Thanks Plants, Aisling spent four days each week in the kitchen, while also trying to secure sales, manage suppliers, hire new staff and everything else that a new food business entails. Support from LEO South Dublin allowed her to hire her first production staff and, for the first time, allowed her to gradually reduce her time in the kitchen and focus on growing the business.

The significant investment secured in 2022 has allowed Aisling to expand her team to include 7 production staff and 4 management staff focused on areas like production, food safety and sales. The Company Board now also includes people with very strong track records in the food sector, bringing a range of valuable perspectives.


Words of Advice

Aisling’s advice for anyone thinking of starting up a business would be threefold:

‘Firstly, be up for the challenge. There’ll be a different one everyday. But that’s what I love most: solving all those problems!

Secondly, while people often talk about lucky breaks, I really believe you make your own luck. Get out there, get your product out there and things will start to happen.

Finally, latch on to all the supports that are available. Have the conversation with the LEO and understand all the different types of support. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t had financial support from the LEO to get us through the early loss-making stages of the business.’

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