Belfast Telegraph

Firm on pig's back ever since scoring major deal with footballing ace Best

margaret canning

IT'S one of Northern Ireland's best-known brands – but Karro Group, the owner of Cookstown Sausages, is now looking far beyond provincial Northern Ireland and even the UK for its expansion plans.

The export of delicacies like pigs heads and trotters to China has become a growing focus for Karro Group, and its site in Malton in Yorkshire has been cleared by the UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and by the Chinese authorities, to send such foodstuffs to China.

Managing director Seamus Carr has the same ambitions for Cookstown, and the company is now waiting for the Molesworth Road facility to be given the green light for exports to China.

The site is already approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for exports to the US.

But notwithstanding the forward-looking focus of its owners, Cookstown Sausages will always be viewed with nostalgic affection in Northern Ireland.

In the late 1960s, Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballer George Best, from Burren Way in the Cregagh Road in Belfast, was approached to advertise the product on TV, and while today's footballing heroes might set their sights on fashion or watches for lucrative endorsements, he readily agreed.

The Best family adverts had been the brainchild of Rex McKane, the head of a major Belfast advertising agency.

In 2010, the Mid-Ulster Mail obituary of Ivan Bell, a UK and Ireland sales manager at Cookstown, reminisced about those heady days.

The effect on sales was immediate, going from pounds per week to tonnes.

And, according to the Mid-Ulster Mail's obituary, "part of the deal George Best negotiated with Cookstown sausages was that his family in Burren Way, Cregagh, Belfast would receive a selection of Cookstown products each Friday.

"Ivan was warmly received by the Best family when he made the deliveries and on occasions chatted to George over a cup of tea."

In 2007, Grampian Country Pork, which owned the Cookstown factory at that time, erected a commemorative plaque to thank the footballer for his contribution to the success of the sausages – and for putting the town on the map.

Belfast Telegraph