Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Bangers and cash as firm snags Marks & Spencer sausage contract

Denis Lynn with Venison steaks and sausages

A CO Down food producer has snagged a £50m deal with Marks and Spencers to supply all its "top tier" sausages in the UK and Ireland with the help of a posh hot dog.

Downpatrick-based firm Finnebrogue has been supplying the supermarket with pork, beef, venison and lamb sausages for a number of years but the three-year contract will represent a big leap in turnover.

As a result, owner and managing director Denis Lynn said he expects to create a further 30 jobs to add to the 108 staff already working at the company.

"This deal secures Finnebrogue and secures our staff," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "Because of our successful partnership with Marks and Spencers and our growth of the high-end sausage, they've put their faith in us to deliver."

The company, which is based on the Finnebrogue Estate outside Downpatrick, is most famous for its venison after Mr Lynn created the largest deer farm in the UK in Ireland back in 1996, but has since diversified into sausages, burgers and stuffings.

He said turnover has consistently grown by 18% a year but will dwarf that figure with the latest deal, one which has come about through a close relationship with the supermarket.

Most recently that has culminated in the "Posh Hot Dog", a cross between a frankfurter and a premium sausage, which was an idea thought up by Marks and Spencer and developed by Finnebrogue.

Mr Lynn said it's proved hugely popular over the last few weeks, particularly given the warm weather across the UK with sales topping £300,000 a week.

"The posh dogs have taken the barbecue market by storm and outsold all our other sausages put together," he said. "It's a Marks and Spencer take on the hot dog made from smoked pork, but you cook it like an upmarket sausage."

Mr Lynn said striving for excellence is key to the success of the business.

"When you completely and totally focus on being the best at what you do, then eventually it works," he said. "But remember, it's a journey and the second you think you have it cracked your wrong."

A humble beginning selling pies and pizzas to shops

Denis Lynn started in the food business in 1985 with his first venture Lynn's Country Foods, selling pizzas and pies to shops and restaurants in Northern Ireland.

It then became the agent for chip maker Lord Chips throughout the island of Ireland before the business was sold to O'Kane Poultry in 1993, just two years after he bought Finnebrogue Estate.

The beef farm was then diversified into deer in 1996 and has been supplying venison to top restaurants ever since as well as moving in to the food processing arena, in particular, sausages.

Denis Lynn's top tips in business:

* Offer something truly different and unique. Really understand your competition and work out how to do it better.

* Once you know how to do it better, then sell the story. Nobody will buy your products unless you can articulate your unique selling points.

* Deliver both margin and volume. Avoid getting into the commodity trap by selling cheap basic products at low margins just to get volume through the factory. It's a downward spiral.

* Never stop. Innovation is a continual process. Keep working on the next big thing and put as much energy into the long term as as the short term.

* Get a reality check. It is easy to get caught up in the world of innovation and product development but unless you connect back to the real world, and the customer, then you can drift off course. Listen to the customer. Don't innovate for innovation's sake. Ask good questions and listen to real people.