Kilkeel dad devised fat-free meal range to help 20 stone son desperate to lose weight
Butcher Sean Morgan, from Kilkeel, tells Stephanie Bell how his son Connor's determination to shed the pounds proved the recipe for their business success
A Co Down dad's devotion to helping his son lose weight has put the family at the forefront of healthy food manufacturing in Northern Ireland. Sean Morgan, a Kilkeel butcher, devised his own fat-free sausages and burgers when his son Connor decided to slim down after tipping the scales at 20 stone when he was 21 years old.
Eating the foods his father prepared led to such dramatic weight loss that people on social media were soon bombarding Connor with requests to share his secret.
And such was the demand for Sean's new fat-free foods that within just a few months, father and son had given up their jobs to launch their own food company, Oh So Lean.
Working initially from their family garage, the firm has now moved to two manufacturing units in Kilkeel harbour.
Father and son employ 10 people, including a team of chefs, who are constantly adding to their ever expanding range of healthy foods.
Oh So Lean products are not only fat-free but also made without gluten, dairy, soya and the controversial additive monosodium glutamate.
A name which has now become synonymous with "clean" foods, Oh So Lean also delivers its healthy meats, ready meals, soups, sauces, lunch pots and vegan-friendly meals to your door within 24 hours.
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Sean (54), who is married to Diane (51), who works in a fish factory in Kilkeel harbour, also has a daughter Andrea (27) as well as Connor, who is now 30.
It was when Connor reached the age of 21 and weighed in at 20 stone that he decided to join a local slimming group and try to lose weight.
His dad Sean recalls: "Connor came home from the diet group with a book that gave a breakdown of what he should be eating. It mentioned sausages and burgers with less than 3% fat, which simply didn't exist.
"I was managing a local butcher's shop at the time and decided to try and make them myself and that's how it started.
"I was selling them in the butcher's shop, but a few weeks after Connor started to lose the weight, a girl from a slimming group in Dundonald asked if she got a group of people together would we deliver some to her area.
"We agreed, travelled to where they were, and had this huge queue at the back of the van."
The requests kept coming in and father and son soon found themselves driving to towns across Northern Ireland, loaded up with supplies of their healthy fat-free products.
Just nine months after Connor started his diet, Sean had given up his job in the butcher's and Connor gave up his trade as a plasterer to start producing food full-time in their garage at home.
Connor's weight loss was indeed dramatic. Within a year he had slimmed down from 20 stone to 12 stone and had gone from a 46-inch waist to a 30-inch waist.
He recalls how he first started to pile on weight at around the age of 11 when he left primary school.
"I remember in the school tuck shops and the canteen food there were really no healthy options. They did have a salad bar and a load of bread, but there wasn't much information about healthy eating.
"I have a sweet tooth and still do - I find it hard to resist Haribo and jelly sweets.
"Throughout my teens I just kept getting bigger. I was lucky that I had a good group of friends and was never really bullied about my size. But as I got older I did get very self conscious about my weight.
"I always wore baggy jumpers to try and hide it, even in the summer months.
"At 21, I decided that I really needed to do something about it. I was about 20 stone and my jeans were a crazy 46-inch waist, so I joined a local slimming group.
"Dad did all the research into fat-free foods and started making his own which I ate - and the weight fell off me.
"I started around August and by the February of the following year I had lost five stone."
Connor started to post about his weight loss progress on Facebook and was soon getting messages from people, demanding to know the secret of his success. "When I told them about dad's burgers and sausages we were inundated with requests," he explains.
Back then, his weight dropped to 12 stone, but since then he has maintained a healthy weight of around 13 stone, eating nothing but Oh So Lean meat and ready meals which he now has for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
He and his father have invested time and money into developing a brand that they can proudly stand over for its quality, as each of their products is scientifically tested and endorsed.
With over 20 products now in the ever expanding range, from vegan meals and gluten-free ranges to family meat barbecue packs, the company has scooped 13 food awards in the last two years and has become a recognised brand within the fitness industry and the "free-from" community.
Reflecting the recent trend for healthy food delivered to your door, Oh So Lean also delivers across Northern Ireland.
Every meal is delivered either by Sean or Connor or by courier in chilled, secure ice boxes, so that they can be left in a secure spot and will remain chilled until opened.
For father and son, delivering quality is at the heart of their business and Sean believes that is what sets Oh So Lean apart from its competitors.
He says: "Anyone can put a healthy label on food, but we go a step further and pay for every one of our products to be tested in a laboratory.
"We have eight balanced ready meals which have the exact balance of carbs, vegetables and meat and we don't just put vegetables in for the sake of it, but for their nutritional value. We have around 20 products now and we can stand over every one of them.
"I would, however, like to emphasise that we are not the answer to weight loss, it is not a miracle cure, and you have to have a plan in place and want to do it.
"But all of our foods are fat-free. We don't use oils and we do everything clean, there are no additives, salt or sugars in anything we make. Our bacon has the least salt content of any bacon in the UK.
"Our food is not expensive and because of the natural ingredients we use they will keep you feeling full for longer."
While the company is working hard to continually expand its range and meet demand for changing dietary needs, Sean says an explosion in healthy food options has hit his firm hard.
And the current reports that we are heading for a recession have not surprised this savvy businessman, who believes it kicked in some time ago.
He says: "I've been saying for the past eight months that we are in a recession and we as a business are certainly feeling it. We had eight to 10 vans on the road doing deliveries not so long ago and now we are down to three and Connor and I drive two of the vans ourselves because we can't afford to pay anyone.
"This is solely what we do and it is personal for us.
"Connor is still on the same journey and for anyone who is going through a weight-loss journey they can trust our meals, which all have a good healthy balance."
Connor says the quality of his life has been transformed since he slimmed down, though he admits that maintaining his weight loss is something he will always have to think about.
"Life is really different without the weight," he says. "I enjoy buying clothes now. I love keeping fit and wish I had got into that at school or at least been more aware of it.
"I would do something at least 10 times a week, either a session with my personal trainer, a workout at the gym, boot camp, running or walking. I just need to get out of the house or I would eat out of boredom.
"With the business I work long hours, maybe six hours in the factory and then another eight hours every evening delivering. They are long days and last year me and daddy were working 13 days on and one day off for a full year.
"I only eat from our range and I've never felt better or had to worry about my weight."
Breakfast for Connor usually comprises Oh So Lean turkey rashers or chicken sausages with spinach, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Lunch is an Oh So Lean chicken or turkey burger with vegetables or a ready meal. Dinner is another Oh So Lean ready meal.
He adds: "I live on our stir fries and never tire of them. Our burgers and sausages are handy to have in the fridge to grab if I am hungry. We also now have protein bars, which are good for a snack when you get that mid-afternoon lull and need a pick-me-up.
"Everywhere you look now there are healthy eating products, but our stuff has been independently tested and I'm living proof it works."
Sean and Connor's full range of healthy foods can be ordered online at www.ohsolean.co.uk and delivered to your door within 24 hours.