Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

From the fields to Facebook, meet the butchers determined to roll with the times

William Corrie is following in his father and grandfather's footsteps
William Corrie is following in his father and grandfather's footsteps

Drumhilla Farm was established by William Corrie over 35 years ago

The Corrie family still run the Newtownards farm of over a thousand acres, a thousand beef cattle and another 800 dairy cattle.

Today much of the Corries on the Farm business operates through its chain of four retail outlets - it has shops in Newtownards town, in the Ballyhackamore and Cherryvalley districts of East Belfast and through a farm shop.

"My grandfather set up the business in the early 70s", explains William Corrie junior. "He killed one of the beasts on the farm one day. A lady came into the farm and said she would take half and the business grew from that - and grew and grew."

Today Corries on the Farm is a thriving small family business, with 22 staff. William runs the meat processing operation, his brother Gareth is in charge of the Newtownards shop and beef production, while William's twin brother Richard runs the dairy farm.

"My father (also called William) oversees us all and makes us all right," adds the youngest William. "He does the pricing, buys the fertiliser and does the stock ordering for the butcher's shop."

As well as the farm and shops, the Corries operate a successful wholesale operation, supplying other butcher shops, Chinese restaurants and hotels. Produce includes beef, dairy, pork and chicken, with vegetables and cakes sold at the farm shop as well.

"We would like to open another retail outlet in the next year or so," adds William. "We are not sure where just yet, but in the surrounding area - not too far away, in the Holywood direction."

The move into retailing took place over a decade ago and was a response to pressures on prices in the wholesale market.

"The wholesale margins were so small that the shops were a natural progression for a farm with three sons," explains William. "We started off small, selling to Chinese restaurants, but then it kept growing."

At that time it was very unusual for a farm to operate its own retail outlet.

Many customers were buying meat to keep in their freezers - which is much less common today.

"At the moment we are going to build on what we have got and promoting the business a bit more and take advantage of the farm a bit more," continues William. "We have a unique set-up here."

The family is keen to exploit the Corrie brand name, including through Facebook, Twitter and the website, corriesonthefarm.co.uk.

It is also producing a brochure that will be distributed through the farm, the shops and by letterbox delivery in target areas.

In addition, packaging is being redesigned to present a stronger brand image. "We are creating a recognisable brand," says William.

But the retail side has not been permitted to sideline the farm, which has established a strong reputation for high quality animal care.

It is recognised by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) as a 'focus farm', where visitors can see good practice in animal welfare, breeding, efficiency and facilities.

The family has also won a series of farming awards, including from the British Limousin Cattle Society.

The Corries have invested to become market leaders and the investments are paying off.

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