Rocketvan hits the target with healthy food

Sam Butler talked to Davy Smith and Louise McCreesh in Banbridge about Rocketvan, their recently established healthy food business.

Banbridge-based foodies Davy Smith and Louise McCreesh are using a converted Yorkshire ambulance to bring healthy food to festivals and other community events across Northern Ireland.

The enterprising couple, who are to be married next month, have launched rocketvan, a mobile food van that’s now offering delicious salads and gourmet sandwiches as a healthy ‘street food’ option. And it’s an offering geared also to vegetarians and those with conditions such as coeliac disease.

In addition to their presence at food events at venues throughout the province, they’ve launched a delivery service that offers platters of gourmet sandwiches for conferences and other events as well as offices and factories around the wider Banbridge area. They are aiming to expand the service in the short to medium term.

They are an integral part of a revolution currently underway here that’s raising the quality, variety and taste of food on offer at outdoor events, many of which are part of the current and highly successful Year of Food and Drink. The business has been shortlisted for the regional final of the British Street Food Awards and has also achieved five star hygiene rating following a Scores on the Doors inspection.

“We are both passionate about quality food and were keen to set up our own business,” says Louise, a native of Mullaghbawn in the picturesque foothills of Slieve Gullion in Co. Armagh. She has a background in broadcasting with the BBC. Davy hails from Newry and has experience in the fitness sector.

The couple was encouraged to realise their idea for a small food enterprise at a Tourism NI workshop held to explore business opportunities within the ambitious framework of Year of Food and Drink.

“One of the key themes of the workshop was the need to develop new approaches in outdoor catering around food and other festivals. This was in line with our own thinking,” Louise continues. “What we were thinking about was a mobile service specialising in premium quality and healthy menu items based on delicious salads and sandwiches.

“We did quite a bit of market research to see what was then available. It included visits to food exhibitions and other events around Northern Ireland. Our research found that people here are increasingly looking for healthy options especially for their children. Shaping this development is concern about fat intake and obesity.

“We gathered as much information as we could about food delivery operations. The next step was to pull all this information together and shape a detailed business plan.

“We developed our own menu using fresh salad ingredients, giant whole wheat couscous, nuts and seeds. Among our most popular items is a satay chicken salad that also includes avocado and cashew nuts, and a goat’s cheese salad with roasted red peppers.

“We wanted in particular to use ingredients that were fresh and locally sourced. For instance, we source our leaves and vegetables from a greengrocer in Banbridge, use Fivemiletown goat’s cheese, and the low GI bread is from Windsor Bakery in Banbridge.

“Our initial idea was to launch a delivery service focused on local offices and other premises around Banbridge. At the workshop, we were encouraged to take this a stage further by ‘going mobile’.”

The couple then began the search for a suitable vehicle. They found it in Glasgow! The vehicle had been a Renault ambulance from Yorkshire that had been converted into a food van. “We reckoned it was perfect for what we had in mind and decided to buy it. We were excited to secure a vehicle that suited our objectives,” Louise says.

“We brought it back home and revamped it, transforming it from a snack van to a salad bar on wheels. It became our rocketvan. We chose this identity because we both liked Elton John’s Rocket Man and it seemed to fit our focus on healthy food, fresh salad ingredients such as rocket. We’re definitely in orbit now,” she adds. rocketvan is kitted out with two refrigerators, a counter-top prep unit, a panini grill and an Italian coffee machine. They also serve fresh coffee sourced from Ristretto, the Banbridge-based roasters.’

The new business is pitched at the rapidly growing health, weight and overall wellness market that’s now impacting the street food sector. Rocketvan’s fresh, filling and nutritious salads are provided in convenient 750ml plastic containers and were launched in July at the big Soma Irish music and lifestyle festival in Castlewellan.

The colourful event in the Mournes featured a food and drink element for the first time in the form of a gourmet food market. “Taking part was a bit of an experiment,” Louise continues. “We wanted to see how festival fans would react to the type of food we had developed. We were keen to talk to them, to explain the thinking behind our approach and menu and to get their feedback. We really shouldn’t have worried, because the response from people of all ages was immensely encouraging and business was excellent. People were extremely positive about our food and the fresh, rockety concept,” she adds.

Encouraged by the success at Soma, Louise and Davy are taking part in a series of forthcoming Year of Food and Drink events. They are demonstrating that there’s a great deal more to ‘street food’ than burgers and bangers.

Contact: @rocketvanfood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram