In our new Meet the Maker series, we're shining the light on the many gifted producers behind some of Ireland's best food and drink brands. Today, we chat to Eileen Ashe of Annascaul Black Pudding
Could you tell us a bit about the history of Annascaul Black Pudding?
Annascaul Black Pudding Co. is an artisan food production business. We specialise in artisan black and white puddings, a range of pork sausages & related products, and dry-cured rashers. Our ethos is to provide a high-quality range of products to our customers. We use local and Irish ingredients as much as possible. We use fresh, Irish blood in our Black Pudding and are one of the few remaining Irish black puddings so made. Today, customers are more interested in the provenance & history of their food. We offer both.
Why is using Irish ingredients important to your company?
A key element of our ethos has always been to support local. Every ingredient, where possible, is sourced locally and is Irish in origin.
There are important reasons why we choose to buy from Irish producers:
- Support for other Irish businesses.
- The overall high quality of the ingredients, this quality is evident in our finished product.
- Our ability to trace every ingredient to its source.
We appreciate the multiplier effect of buying from our local producers and in keeping jobs in our communities. With a staff of seven, Annascaul Black Pudding Co. contributes to the economic pulse of our community.
Ar scath a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – (In the shadow of each other, we all survive), by helping and supporting each other, we all thrive.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a food producer in Ireland?
There has been a substantial increase in competition in our sector over the last six or seven years. Business costs, in general, are continuing to increase. We use Irish and local products where at all possible. The cost of Irish pork has risen very sharply over the past few months as a direct result of the Asian swine flu problem. This is set to continue indefinitely. Margin has been immediately impacted as a result. It won’t deter us from using only Irish pork though.
Food tourism is very important to our business. The food tourist is especially interested in researching and sampling local foods. Annascaul Black Pudding has been made by hand since 1916 at the same premises and is especially important in food history and provenance. This season is very heavily impacted because of Covid-19. The Summer season is what covers Winter bills. The challenge this year is to stay afloat, keep everyone well and hopefully have an economic recovery from next year.
As a small business, you are heavily involved in day-to-day operations. It can be difficult to allocate quality time to the strategic growth and development of the business.
What new trends do you see that are emerging in your industry?
There is a growing awareness among consumers of the importance of the provenance of their food. This is positive for food producers who actively use quality Irish ingredients. Knowing the history and story behind a brand builds trust and a relationship with your food provider.
Food tourism is an important growth area. The food tourist is especially interested in researching and sampling local foods. Annascaul Black Pudding has been made by hand since 1916 at the same premises and is especially important in food history and provenance.
Initiatives like “Buy Irish”, “Champion Green”, the GastroGays, Lucinda O’Sullivan’s column ‘Foodies fight back’ etc. are creating awareness of the great many food and drink producers we have in Ireland and facilitating business between the consumer and the producer.
Customers were traditionally slow to buy perishable food online. During the lockdown period, more customers shopped for food online and there was a concerted effort to support small producers. This was backed by food writers profiling a number of producers and there was a definite increase in interest and purchase over this period. This has reduced somewhat now that the country is re-opening. This is an area that can be grown given the positive experiences of online shoppers. Our product range also has an element of nostalgia attached. Customers who holiday in Kerry or who have memories of traditional pudding etc may also be a growth segment for us to grow the online market. The packaging associated with the very of perishable food means delivery is expensive, owever.
Are there any major changes you would like to see in your industry?
Labelling can be misleading on some products that claim to be Irish made or use Irish ingredients. Clearer guidelines on labelling and the use of the term artisan are important to safeguard small and rural producers.
We have a great relationship with the vast majority of customers we deal with. However, there are some that create difficulties for small business in terms of payment, credit terms, discounting. There is a relatively tight margin in small scale food production – a smaller business is quite exposed if put under this type of pressure. The larger companies will be paid because they won’t deliver if credit terms not respected. Smaller companies can be up to six months in arrears in terms of payment. The smaller company is even more at risk of cash flow problems.
The cost of food production! – There needs to be greater discussion and education around the cost of good food production. Price wars and comparisons between some of the larger multiples has led to customers basing purchasing decisions on price and inevitably that leads to some decisions based on price rather than quality or purchase decisions based on sustainable and local food. This was brought clearly into focus during Covid-19. The percentage of our food that is imported and yet we have the capability to produce here. Helping the smaller producer get their products to market is essential if more producers are going to survive and be encouraged to produce in the first instance. NeighbourFood was an excellent example of this during the down. Customers became aware of local growers and producers and it was an excellent forum for connecting customers and producers. It was also an outlet for growers who had perishable products and whose market with the hospitality industry had all but disappeared. Hopefully, ustomers will continue on this path of seeing, knowing and supporting local and Irish producers.
The range of supports available to small and rural business through agencies like the Local Enterprise Offices (LEO) is essential for business survival and the social fabric of local communities. As an SME it can be difficult on many levels to run a sustainable business providing employment in a peripheral rural area, but the supports that you can avail of through the LEOs are beneficial, so we’d like to see these continue and expand. They have also launched a w online Food Academy programme aimed at supporting and nurturing food start-up businesses. This looks like an excellent initiative for those considering food production or development.
What has running your own business taught you?
Having celebrated 100 years in business in 2016, we are continuing a great Irish tradition of artisan food production that has, at its core, to be a positive and contributing force to the social and economic fabric of our locality and county.
As a third-generation business, you are conscious of continuing a business successfully.
Running our own business has taught us the importance of growing a business organically and in a sustainable manner, of always looking at costs and margins – turnover for vanity, profit for sanity!
Who are some other Irish foodie brands you draw inspiration from?
Too many to mention! The story behind quality Irish products and their producers is fascinating. Blackcastle Farm, The Busy Botanist, Quinlans Fish, Bacús bread, Skellig Chocolates, Lorge Chocolates, Green Saffron, Ballymaloe Foods.....
What’s next for the company?
Our main priority is to run a successful and sustainable business on the Dingle peninsula, supplying quality Irish artisan products and providing local employment.
Product development and innovation is key to sustainability and growth within current and new targeted markets. We aim to expand our retail and wholesale distribution network regionally and nationally also to achieve this.
Our website is currently being redesigned and we aim to use this revamp to better promote awareness and sales of our product range. Photography will be key to the look and will assist our social media marketing also.
Find out more about Annascaul Black Pudding here!