Joanne Hayden tells how Linwoods is geared up for the challenge of delivering quality and value
How long has Linwoods been operating in Northern Ireland?
Linwoods has been delivering quality bakery and dairy products to the independent retail trade here since 1980.
Do you have any plans for expansion?
We have recently expanded our business into the Republic where we have opened a depot in Dublin and have 10 vehicles operating from this site. We have also had much success in our superfoods division with exports now reaching Spain, Holland, Finland, Portugal, the US and plans this year for France and Italy.
The economy has been in the doldrums for three years now, with worse expected to come thanks to a VAT increase and public-sector cuts. How has the downturn affected business, north and south?
Business continues to be affected by a number of factors, the downturn in the economy being one.
But our business is also affected by increases in raw materials and ingredients which we have had to incorporate into our pricing models over the past few years, while continuing to remain competitive and offer value in a very aggressive market.
Have you launched any new initiatives to combat the current challenges?
We have certainly had to introduce more promotional activity at store level to keep consumers turned on to our brands. Consumers have become less brand loyal in this environment and more price sensitive, so manufacturers must balance their activity in trade with competitive and value-driven offers but at the same time ensure the equity of their brands remain intact.
In a competitive marketplace, how do you win business?
We have an excellent relationship with our retailers and key account groups and we work closely with them to ensure we are delivering the right promotional programmes to their customers.
In some instances we increase our presence in store using highly visible point-of-sale merchandise and managing the category better, and on other occasions it’s about offering the right products at the right time in store. We ensure we are driving consumer pull through across our portfolio.
What led to your focus on exports and how did you win deals like the recent one with KLT Global in Detroit?
Our superfoods have a 12-month shelf life from production so it made sense to look at export opportunities.
We have never entered a market without conducting extensive research initially, and in all our experiences to date we have found a gap in the markets for a product range like ours.
We first went to the United States on a trade mission with Invest Northern Ireland and we got a great response from distributors in the market on our product range.
We were impressed with KLT Global and they were impressed with us.
It has taken just under two years to get the project up and running and KLT Global has embraced our product launch and is very proactive on the ground in gaining distribution for our product range in the right type of stores.
How has the focus on healthy eating in recent years helped Linwoods’ business?
We have invested more resources into this division and we are seeing the immediate return on this. All our current markets are in growth and this has allowed us to take advantage of opportunities in other markets as they arise.
Which area of the business performs best — dairy, bakery or health foods?
Our bakery and dairy divisions have been subject to competition and an increase in fuel prices, ingredients and raw materials over the past few years and has therefore made this business more challenging.
With our health foods, we have a unique product range with vast export opportunity and this has been one of the main focuses in the business over the past two years.
With the cost of food going up all the time, how do you make sure customers keep buying health foods?
We have a very effective marketing campaign which communicates three core messages — health benefits, how to use the products and how to incorporate these into your lifestyle.
Sampling is a major part of our activities as people like to try before they buy.
We hear constantly that food and drink is one of the best performing sectors in NI, and the one which is most likely to continue to create more jobs. Is that also Linwoods’ view?
Our healthy super foods business has experienced excellent growth. This has generated more jobs. We have sustained our business in both bakery and dairy divisions and are looking at various new product development projects in both these categories to ensure we can grow in the future.