Dragons' Den tires of Irish health food fad

"If it's free from everything are we going to be asked to invest in free air next?"

Dragons' Den tires of Irish health food fad

Picture by: Frank May/DPA/PA Images

There's a noticeable trend on Dragons' Den this series and it's really not to serial entrepreneur and sole-remaining original Irish dragon Gavin Duffy's taste.

"Jaysus," the 56-year-old starts with an exaggerated sigh on the promo trail in Dublin's Residence Members Club.

"This year was high protein year and it's stuff that's inedible."

Noting the success they've had on the RTÉ show with food startups in the past ("it's normally brilliant"), Duffy says that, bar one or two investments, there's now a sense of health food fatigue among his fellow investors:

"Everybody's chasing that 1% gluten-free. Food has become medicine now. I'm not one to talk, but if you want protein, would you not take a slice of chicken?!"

"One guy was in with a protein bomb and I've a feeling, [under] Section 21 – he shouldn't have been allowed on, because this thing would do damage! When he left the den, I threw it on the floor, just to see, because it felt rock-hard. It was like a hockey puck!"

On the subject of whether extremely healthy eats was a fad that would fizzle out, his fellow dragons echoed Duffy's exasperation.

Alison Cowzer, a businesswoman who's immersed in the food startup game and is behind the Drogheda-based biscuit project East House Bakehouse, said:

"We saw a lot of niche propositions come in. At one point I think I got a little bit impatient and asked 'well, if it's free from everything are we going to be asked to invest in free air next?'

"Is there nothing in it at this point, is there no food left?! Gluten-free, sugar-free, this-free, that-free... It got to a point where we just wanted some real food.

"But that's what's happening in the market at the moment, there's such huge innovation at that level and people feel they have something new to offer."

For Cowzer, however, the benefits of such products are often over-egged.

"If you look at the statistics, 1% of the Irish population is coeliac, yet there is an explosion in the whole gluten-free aspect. So at some point will those individuals feel 'actually, maybe I'm not as intolerant as I thought'?

"Because most of it is self-diagnosed. There's a category in the food industry of consumers called the 'worried well' – they're actually fine, but they're worried. My view is that a little bit of what you fancy doesn't do any harm as long as you have a balanced diet and eat real food."

Dragons' Den continues on RTÉ One at 9.30pm this Sunday