Belfast Telegraph

‘You’ll never win a match without the right team around you to help’

Small business can: Kennedy Bacon

Mervyn and Marion Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh
Mervyn and Marion Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh
Mervyn Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh

By Lisa Smyth

The Kennedy family has been farming in the scenic hills of Glenhordial outside Omagh since the 1940s. However, more than two decades ago, the family made a decision to diversify and moved from solely farming pigs to producing high quality dry cured bacon.

Kennedy Bacon has gone from strength to strength since then as an increasing number of people make a conscious decision to cut back on the amount of processed food they eat.

The farm's owner, Mervyn Kennedy, says: "We still make our bacon the traditional way. It is less processed, there are less additives, water and preservatives.

"It is a much more natural product than you get in a lot of other bacons, which have a lot of additives put in to make it go further."

Mervyn started out selling his bacon at farmers and variety markets. It was from here that he was approached by a number of shops to stock his bacon.

He now stocks shops around Northern Ireland and has a contract with Musgrave Group, the business behind Centra, Mace and SuperValu.

"It started small but it has grown steadily over the years," says Mervyn.

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The success enjoyed by the business has meant that he has had to expand the premises that he uses.

This has, in turn, necessitated significant investment.

"We have a factory at the farm where we do the curing," explains Mervyn.

"We did have to expand it, which took substantial investment, but I was confident enough in the product and it was something that we had to do in order to fulfil orders from the factories.

"We did the expansion about a year ago,and doubled the size to about 3,500 sq ft.

"We didn't have a contract with the supermarkets when we went ahead with the expansion, but we knew the factory wasn't big enough and we wanted to supply the supermarkets."

Mervyn has also worked hard to achieve SALSA standard, a robust and effective food safety certification scheme which is appropriate for smaller food producers and processors.

Approved suppliers can demonstrate they operate to standards recognised and accepted across the industry and exceed the minimum standards expected by enforcement authorities.

Mervyn says: "We've been SALSA accredited for two years and that was challenging, but important for the business."

As well as SALSA, the business has won a number of other accolades in recent years, including a star from the Great Taste Awards in 2015 for its dry cured traditional back bacon and two stars for its dry cured gammon roast the following year.

Kennedy Bacon is also an official Great Taste producer and in 2017 received a best in farmers market award from Blas na h Eireann.

As the brand continues to expand, so too has the need to expand processing facilities and Mervyn is in the process of opening a new plant near Dunfanaghy in Co Donegal.

"This also involves significant investment, but again, I am confident that it's the right thing to do," says the farmer.

So, have there been any occasions when Mervyn has regretted the move into food production?

"The weather can be a bit of challenge," he says.

"When you're standing at a market in the freezing cold and you are unconscious from the knees down, you do wonder.

"The markets can be very weather-dependent, if you get a shower of rain at about 10 in the morning before the market opens, it can tend to put people off coming.

"But your customers get used to seeing you at the markets, they expect you to be there and they come to deal with you directly."

Despite this, farming is in Mervyn's blood and he was always going to follow his father into the industry.

"It was actually my mother and I who farmed the pigs," he says.

"I would have helped out on the farm from I was a boy and I was always going to go into farming when I left school.

"I remember the vice principal saying to me there was no point asking where I was when I wasn't in school, it wasn't like I was out of school and down under the railway bridge. He said there was no point in looking for me there because I was always at home helping on the farm."

Looking to the future, Mervyn is looking forward to opening the new processing unit in Co Donegal, as well as expanding the products on offer to include cured gammon and hams.

With the expansion of facilities, Mervyn has also had to expand the number of employees.

"There's nine of us now and that's a big responsibility because you have to pay the wages on a Friday no matter what," he says.

"But building a good team around you is crucial to success - as my old rugby coach used to shout at us, 'there is no I in team'.

"If you don't have the right team you'll never win a match, it's as simple as that."

Belfast Telegraph