Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Finnebrogue unveils £3m expansion

Pork sausages from Finnebrogue, which is in demand for its range of top quality products, including venison, beef, lamb and pork

A Co Down food company is creating over 60 new jobs and is aiming to double sales outside of Northern Ireland this year as part of a £3m expansion.

Finnebrogue, which started off as a venison producer, but which now also makes pork sausages and other products for major retailers, is ploughing funds into new facilities and marketing activities.

Invest Northern Ireland's Jobs Fund is providing assistance of £227,000 towards the imminent expansion.

Recruitment for the new posts, which include several at managerial level and will contribute an extra £1m to the Northern Ireland economy, is already under way, and is scheduled for completion by the end of March.

There are 115 people currently working for the company.

Finnebrogue founder, Denis Lynn, said that the company is making a strategic move in response to demand from existing and potential customers in Britain.

"Over the last number of years we have seen significant increases in demand for our premium pork products," he said.

"The company currently employs 115 people and this investment will see that number rise to 190.

"Our success is based on the strength of relationships which we have with retailers in a fast growing industry.

"Our business is growing strongly because of this commitment to anticipate and respond quickly to market trends and opportunities. Over the past three years, we've achieved annual growth of around 30%.

"The expansion will provide the additional capacity we need to build upon our success in terms of new product development and sales outside Northern Ireland.

"While our main focus remains on Great Britain, we have pinpointed significant opportunities in other markets and are keen to exploit these in order to achieve even faster growth."

Welcoming the investment, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said that Finnebrogue has an impressive track record for entrepreneurship.

"They specialise in innovation and the development of premium products in response to new market trends and opportunities identified through its close relationships with leading UK retailers," she said.

In 2012, Finnebrogue marked ten years of partnership with Marks & Spencer.

The firm doubled its sales over the 2011 Christmas period to £2.5m and is on target to grow the business to more than £30m this year.

Finnebrogue was recently one of a number of Northern Ireland food companies which took part in a new apprenticeship scheme aimed at those people wishing to pursue a career in the agri-food industry.

The Food Engineering Apprenticeship pilot programme was developed by the Department for Employment and Learning in partnership with Southern Regional College and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), plus a number of leading employers from across the industry.

It will give 21 talented people with an interest in engineering the opportunity to complete a four-year apprenticeship with a local employer.

Participating companies include Linden Foods, Kerry Foods, Dunbia, Moy Park, Irwins Bakeries, Finnebrogue and Dale Farm.

From selling chips to catering for celebrities

He's gone from selling chips from a van to becoming the producer of some of Northern Ireland's most high-end food products and the head of a company expected to turn over more than £30m this year.

Denis Lynn started Lynn's Country Foods in 1985, in his own words, to escape from the dole office, using a second hand car to sell frozen pizzas and pies to shops and restaurants at just 17 years of age.

After building his business and making his money through catering food distribution and becoming a distributor for Lords Chips, he bought the 600-acre Finnebrogue Estate in 1991 and sold the distribution and chip side of the business to O'Kanes Poultry in 1993.

After dabbling in beef farming but suffering the impact of the BSE crisis, in 1996 he sold all his cattle and bought a herd of free-range red deer and began to specialise in venison production from 1997, only using animals less than 24 months old.

An abattoir facility was installed at the Finnebrogue estate in early 2001, and it remains the only dedicated deer slaughtering facility in Ireland.

Mr Lynn began selling to well-known restaurants around Ireland and soon Finnebrogue products were being used by top celebrity chefs like Rick Stein, Jimmy Doherty, Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey and Heston Blumenthal, who described the venison as 'the best I've ever tasted' and made it a staple on the menu of his Fat Duck restaurant

The company now supplies Marks & Spencer, including an extensive Christmas range, and even constructed a purpose-built production facility to serve the firm.

Last year, the firm won 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. Finnebrogue also makes the Jimmy Doherty sausage brand, supplies the Paul Rankin sausage brand and launched its own brand, Good Little Company in 2009, which focuses on animal welfare, sustainable packaging and healthy food.

As well as sausages and venison, the company also makes burgers, stuffings and other products made from pork, beef and lamb and supplies other supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose, Asda and Sainsbury.

Top tips for success...

Denis Lynn offers advice on how to make it 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.

Never Stop. Innovation is continual. Keep working on the next big thing and put as much energy into long-term as 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.

Factfile

Finnebrogue products:

Paul Rankin –

Irish pork sausages

Irish pork & spring onion sausages

Irish pork & herb sausages

M&S –

Organic chipolata sausages

Outdoor bred pork and herb and beef sausages

Tewkesbury Mustard sausages

Venison joint with woodland mushroom sauce and streaky bacon

Bacon wrapped venison cocktail sausages

Finnebrogue celebrity clients include:

Jimmy Doherty

Paul Rankin

Heston Blumenthal

Raymond Blanc

Gordon Ramsey

Rick Stein

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