Producing for Both Retail and Wholesale
In this episode we’re going to hear from Seán Kelly, an award-winning artisan butcher who, along with his brother and two sons, runs Kelly’s Butchers of Newport.
Newport is a small, madly picturesque town in Co. Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. As well as running a retail butcher’s shop in the town, Kelly’s Butchers of Newport also has a serious wholesale side to its operation that supplies stores throughout Ireland and in the UK.
Scaling Up Production
On the show Seán describes how he recently built a 6,000 square foot manufacturing facility for scaling up the production of the three products the company is most famous for, black pudding, including putóg (a traditional west of Ireland black pudding) and white pudding and sausages.
This new facility enables the company to triple its production.
Getting Inside the Mind of a Successful Food Entrepreneur
One thing that struck me when I was talking to Seán was his mind set. To me, he displayed numerous traits that are the hallmark of people who are good at business.
When you hear from Seán it will be obvious that he is highly motivated and determined, he’s good a making decisions, he has initiative, he’s constantly looking for opportunities to improve, he understands the importance of delegating, he’s analytical but also creative, he’s goal oriented but also sees the big picture, and he’s passionate and full of positivity.
It’s no wonder that Kelly’s of Newport have won countless awards not just for product excellence but for business excellence, too.
Click on the Player Below to Listen to the Audio
Very Sound Bites from Sean Kelly
Check out the infographic below for some direct quotes from Sean during the show.
Links/Resources Mentioned in the Show
Kelly’s Butchers of Newport Website (with their new online store)
Kelly’s Butchers of Newport on Facebook
Musgrave retail and foodservice wholesaler
Get the Show Transcript
If audio isn’t your thing, you can download a transcript of the show here: Ep #022: Kelly\’s Butchers of Newport: King of Puddings
You can also find the full transcript of the show at the end of this post.
Don’t Miss New Episode of the Artisan Food & Drink Business Show
If you’d like to hear each new episode of the show as it’s released you can subscribe for free on iTunes.
Thanks for Listening
Thanks for listening to the show. If you are a food or drink producer who would like to come on the show (it’s free) to talk about your products, or if you are an industry professional who would like to talk about your services, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the Contact Form on this website or by tweeting me @FoodDrinkShow.
To hear when each new episode of the show is released simply sign up for my newsletter.
If you have any questions or comments just use the Comments section below.
Like It? Please Share It!
Please share the show with friends or colleagues who might find it useful or interesting — just use any of the social media buttons on this page.
Transcript of the Show
Catherine: Hello, and welcome to episode 22 of The Artisan Food & Drink Business Show, the show where artisan producers tell their brand story and share the secrets of their success. I’m your host, Catherine Moran.
In today’s episode we’re going to hear from Seán Kelly, an award-winning artisan butcher who, along with his brother and two sons, runs Kelly’s Butchers of Newport.
Newport is a small town in Co Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. It’s madly picturesque, ravishing in fact. So, Kelly’s of Newport is in a provincial setting but it doesn’t just have a retail business. It has a serious wholesale side to its operation, as well. On the show Seán describes how he recently built a 6,000 square foot manufacturing facility for scaling up the production of the three products the company is most famous for, black pudding and white pudding and sausages. Kelly’s of Newport sells throughout Ireland and also into the UK.
One thing that struck me when I was talking to Seán was his mind set. To me, he displayed numerous traits that are the hallmark of people who are good at business. When you hear from Seán it will be obvious that he is highly motivated and determined, he’s good a making decisions, he has initiative, he’s constantly looking for opportunities to improve, he understands the importance of delegating, he’s analytical but also creative, he’s goal oriented but also sees the big picture, and he’s passionate and full of positivity. It’s no wonder that Kelly’s of Newport have won countless awards not just for product excellence but for business excellence too. Let’s now hear from Seán.
Catherine: I’m delighted to be sitting next to Seán Kelly of Kelly’s Butchers of Newport, an award winning Irish company that is especially renowned it’s black pudding. Welcome to the Artisan Food and Drink Business Show, Seán.
Seán Kelly: Good morning.
Catherine: Good morning to you. Before we talk about your products and sale streams and marketing and things like that, would you please give a brief overview of the history of your business because Kelly’s of Newport is a family business, isn’t it?
Seán Kelly: It’s a family business. It was started in 1930 by my father. And myself and my brother took it over, and I have two sons in the business now, and we’re here in Newport since 1930. So, we’re long time here.
Catherine: Yes, indeed. So a true multi-generation family?
Seán Kelly: Exactly. We’re a 3rd generation of family now in the business.
Catherine: When did you yourself join the business?
Seán Kelly: Oh, I never joined the business. I was just dragged into it [laughs].
Catherine: You were born into and dragged into it?
Seán Kelly: [Laughs] I was dragged into it, yes and that was it. I did my Leaving Cert. and just automatically came into the business, and that was it.
Catherine: You would have learned a lot of stuff from your father?
Seán Kelly: Yes. You’re learning all the time. It’s the things you learn when you think you know it all that are the most important things, so you keep learning.
Catherine: Life long learning, really?
Seán Kelly: Yes, it is.
Catherine: Let’s talk about your products, then. Could you give… I’ve just come through your lovely shop with the large display of all your meats and all your other products. Would you give a brief overview of your product range?
Seán Kelly: We call ourselves artisan butchers, which means that we still have our own abattoir. We buy local cattle and local sheep, and we dress them in our own abattoir. We hang them. We hang the lambs for a week, and we hang our beef for 3 weeks; and that’s the main thing in the shop, is our beef and lamb. We buy pork locally. We don’t kill our own pork. We have it locally.
Catherine: That abattoir, that’s fairly unusual, isn’t it, to have your own abattoir?
Seán Kelly: Yes, it is very unusual in this county. There are some counties now that have no abattoir. They’re buying from factories and things like that, but we still have our own. We have an EU [European Union]-approved abattoir. We have a license for an abattoir. It’s up to the standards that the EU want, and that’s it.
Catherine: That means you’ve got a lot more control of your raw materials, so to speak?
Seán Kelly: We haven’t a lot more control. We have all the control over what we have here in our shop. We control it by having all local stuff that we use here in the shop.
Catherine: You’re famous as far as … my family have always been talking about your black pudding in particular, but you also make putóg.
Seán Kelly: We make black pudding, well putóg is an Irish word for black pudding, and that’s the word… The way it started around here in the west coast of Ireland. People… Going back a hundred years ago… Any place, really, in the world, they had their own animals, so they utilised everything. They utilised the blood by making black pudding.
It’s Boudin Noir in France; it’s called different things on all over the world. Here, in the west of Ireland, it was called putóg, especially in the gaelteacht [Irish language-speaking] areas. Putóg means ‘stomach’. That’s how it was made. It was made in a sheep’s stomach. That’s how the pudding was made in this part of the world. Because we wouldn’t have that many pigs here in the west of Ireland but sheep are very popular. People killed the sheep at home and utilised everything.
Catherine: Presumably, the sheep being more common than the pigs, is that the reflection of the landscape?
Seán Kelly: Definitely. Definitely the landscape because it’s a hilly area, mountainy area and that’s why the sheep were so popular.
Catherine: I was just wondering if there was … If you’ve made a distinction between the black pudding the putóg?
Seán Kelly: We have a distinction in that with the putóg they only seasoning you have is the salt and pepper. And why salt and pepper? Well, if you went back a hundred years ago, in any farmhouse they’d have salt and pepper. They had no cloves they had no cumin, no nutmeg; they had salt and pepper.
And that’s why we still make it in the old way … The salt and pepper’s a seasoning, that’s all we use in it. That’s why we still call it the putóg, and people buy it. Now, it’s very, very popular at Christmas time, and we sell an awful lot at Christmas, and everybody that comes is says that ‘My mother used to make this’. I think once in my lifetime I heard somebody saying, ‘My father made it for us’. It was always the woman of the house.
Catherine: It was always the woman’s job?
Seán Kelly: The woman of the house, yes.
Catherine: Do you use fresh blood?
Seán Kelly: For the putóg, yes. When we started making black pudding it was all fresh blood we used, but the capacity we’re making now we just can’t have enough of fresh blood so we have to use the powdered blood.
Catherine: That’s a scaling up issue?
Seán Kelly: It would be scaling up for us, anyway.
Catherine: How did you come up with that, because one of your products is a black pudding with a seam or a core of white pudding?
Seán Kelly: White in the centre, yes. How do I come up with these ideas? I suppose … I made that first for a show up the midlands. There was a group of butchers invited to it and each butcher was asked to bring something different that was new to the market. I did that. I made a black pudding and I put in the white pudding into the centre, and it was more as a gimmick than anything else. I never thought it’d take off. Every week now, we sell about 500 kilos of it every week.
Catherine: Gosh, 500 kilos?
Seán Kelly: Yes. Every week. People use it as a starter and dress it up with salad.
Catherine: It’s a very versatile and-
Seán Kelly: It very versatile-
Catherine: Very savoury, a savoury addition, isn’t it?
Seán Kelly: Chefs like using our pudding. For one thing, they can wrap it around a pork fillet, and they can put it in stuffing and it won’t crumble. It’ll hold its shape. If you wrap it around something, it holds its shape. It doesn’t fall away like some of the puddings. It stays firm all the time.
Catherine: They like that property of it.
Seán Kelly: Yes. Exactly.
Catherine: Talking about chefs then, clearly you supply food service?
Seán Kelly: Yes, we supply the food service, yes.
Catherine: What other sales streams do you have? For example, you’ve got your shop downstairs.
Seán Kelly: We have a shop, yes. And we have … I’m after spending an awful lot of money on the new 6,000 square feet… a new extension for manufacture of sausages and puddings. We make, I think we’re very small in this thing. We make about 12 or 13 different varieties of sausages and the one that gets the most talk, is pork and banana.
Catherine: Pork and banana?
Seán Kelly: Bananas, yes. Do we have any repeat sale? I don’t know but we still have them and we make them every week and people talk about it. People talk about pork and apple. That’s a very common one, pork with apple. When you see the pork and banana, they’ll talk about it — why? — you know. It’s a conversation thing.
Catherine: Added obviously quite a bit of sweetness too-
Seán Kelly: Very sweet, yeah.
Catherine: I know you supply the chefs and… A good charcuterie product you make would be very important to, particularly the very high-end chefs, and you have your retail shop, which is ‘direct to consumer’. What about retail?
Seán Kelly: We supply distributors. We’re in one of the multiples, which is the Super Valus in this country. We supply the distributors and they go all over the country and they sell a lot of stock. We’re making a lot of stuff, and we have to sell it that way. By putting our own vans in the road, I just thought it was going to be more expensive on me. Okay, you get more for the pudding but I said ‘this is the way we’ll do it’, sell it to a distributor. Less on book work. Instead of having 20 customers, you have 1 customer.
Catherine: One order.
Seán Kelly: One order, and that’s the way we do it. We just sell it, a pallet of stuff, and that’s the way it goes out the door and that’s it.
Catherine: Do you do any of your own distribution? Any local-
Seán Kelly: We do the local distribution, around here, a radius of 30 miles. We do that ourselves.
Catherine: You have your own van, or truck-
Seán Kelly: Yeah, we have a few vans on the road around here, but we don’t do the rest of the country.
Catherine: That would be a potential nightmare, wouldn’t it?
Seán Kelly: It is. We can control it this way, we can control it an awful lot better. For the Musgraves [a retail and foodservice wholesaler] too, we have drop, one store, and they take it from that. We tick all the boxes for them and that’s it.
Catherine: Seems like a clean solution to a potential headache. Are you exporting?
Seán Kelly: We’re exporting a little into London, because in the unit we were in, it wasn’t big enough to expand. We were producing twice as much as we should have been producing in it. We’re exporting a little into London at the moment but, please God, when we have this new place open it’s going to expand and we’ll have to sell more stock to pay it back, pay for it and we’ll be exporting to London.
Catherine: Which would be an immensely important market, wouldn’t it?
Seán Kelly: It’s all about population. That’s where the population is. The population is in London. There are more people in one street in London than there are in the whole of Ireland [laughs].
Catherine: [Laughs] Very true! They love their Irish food over there. What about Europe and further afield? Would you consider-
Seán Kelly: We have an export license for Europe. We’re registered as an export license for Europe but the boudin pudding in France is a completely different pudding than the Irish pudding. It’s the same all over. Each area has its own different speciality of food. Our pudding I have it spiced in different ways. It’s for a broader market, too. We make three different puddings in the shop … black puddings in the shop. There’s a local pudding that my father started in 1930. We never won a competition with that. We started tweaking and spicing and adding different things to it and we won a lot of competitions with it so that’s the one we sell all over.
Catherine: How tricky was it? Did you have to jump through many hoops to get that license, that EU license?
Seán Kelly: The building has to be a certain standard and everything has to be traceable — one step back, one step forward — where all the raw material comes from, where we sell it, and all that. It’s a pain, but it’s like everything else now, health and safety. You just have to row in with it, and that’s it.
Catherine: Undoubtedly expensive as well?
Seán Kelly: It is. Everything is expensive now. That’s the way they go but you have to do it. To stay in business, you have to do these things.
Catherine: That’s a little bit about your sales. What about marketing? Do you have a particular approach to marketing your products?
Seán Kelly: Well, about 8 years ago, I was advised to get somebody to do marketing for me. I met a friend of mine, and I just said ‘I need somebody to market for me’ and he mentioned the person’s name and he says, ‘But she’s very expensive’.
Seán Kelly: And I said to myself ‘Is she very expensive?’ … What I said was ‘Everybody knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing’. And I said ‘The price doesn’t matter if you get good value’. I was talking to her … She’s with me now for 8 … All these years and, I think she might be… pricey. Might be, I’m saying, but she’s great value. She’s very good value and that’s what I say. We’ve got an awful lot of PR, marketing PR — I put it all down to one thing. We’ve appeared on national television. I’ve been in papers in this country, England, and in France. That’s the way we worked it.
If a reporter phones me up for something, I don’t even talk to them now. I just-
Catherine: Hand the reporter over to-
Seán Kelly: PR West has all the information, all the photographs. She [Lesley Emerson, of PR West] can send a photograph like that on the computer. I’ve a knife in my hand; I cannot do these things. I’m good with a knife. I’m no good with a computer. Everybody to their own. That’s the way it is.
Catherine: You clearly believe in the value of investing in marketing?
Seán Kelly: Yes. If you don’t know how to do it, why learn? I’m a butcher. Knife in my hand, I’m very good. I compete with anybody, but I couldn’t do that. I just wouldn’t have the time to do it, and you need time to do these things and get on to reporters and talk to … And she tells the story for me, and that’s the way it is. It works very well for Kelly’s of Newport.
Catherine: An allied question, which is again about marketing. You’ve got a website. Would you ever consider selling online?
Seán Kelly: Yes. That’s our next step. You see, we were constrained in the unit we were in for manufacturing, that we couldn’t do any more than … The place was built for 3 ton a week. We were making 6 ton a week. We’ve moved into the new place now and we’re up a lot more than that. So, it’s all going very well and our website is been developed now at the moment, and we’re going to start selling online.
Catherine: Direct to individual, private individuals?
Seán Kelly: To private individuals. The world has gone so small, now. Here in Newport in the west coast of Ireland, the next parish is Manhattan in America, and it can be in London in 24 hours or in any place in England. That’s the reality we’re in now.
Catherine: So you’ve had to respond to that?
Seán Kelly: You have to respond to it. There’s no point in sitting back wondering about it. Just go ahead and do it.
Catherine: But, you would have needed to have done quite a bit of business planning not just for the whole idea of selling online, which is a massive undertaking, but also for your new production unit?
Seán Kelly: You build all these things into your mind … Into MY mind and that’s the way it is it, and you delegate then. We’ll have people that’ll be looking after this and that. A few people in this country are selling meat online. There’s no problem, to it. OK, if you are looking for problems, there are plenty problems but if you go ahead and do it, and if you make a mistake and someone tells you make a mistake, you rectify the mistake. That’s it. It’s not science. It’s just simple. Do the thing properly, and that’s it.
Catherine: It sounds to me, from what you just said there, if you go looking for problems you’ll find them but you sound to me like a ‘glass half full’ sort of guy.
Seán Kelly: It’s always half full or more. [Laughs]
Seán Kelly: You can always look at the bad side of everything. You just have to be positive. 99% of the people in the world are good people. But you have 1% and they’re their proper-
Seán Kelly: That’s it, and you have to treat the good people well.
Catherine: The capital outlay for your food production unit must have been substantial and … You would agree with me that you need cash to scale up. What advice would you have for meat companies or indeed any artisan food or drink companies who are thinking, ‘Look, we need to scale up. We need to raise funds to make our operation bigger’. What advice would you have about funding?
Seán Kelly: The only thing… What we did here is… You do your accounts once a year and when we became a company [a limited company]… We were sole traders until 2012. We became a company in 2012 and we had our accounts done for two years. I went to my accountant and I said ‘Listen, I’m thinking of building. If my figures stayed the way they were for the last 2 years, can I pay back the amount of money I want to borrow?’ He said ‘Yes’. He didn’t have to think about it.
Catherine: Is it a question of ‘When can you pay it back?’ as well?
Seán Kelly: On the last two years of trading, we could’ve paid it back; the company could’ve paid it back, so that’s what I went on. If I can increase by 10% this year, we will be okay. I know we can. This is the end of August now and we’re gone up well. I know in my heart. He does the figures but I know I can go into the computer and I can see where things are going and how things are going and if I’m up from last year and turnover, everything else, follows, I maintain. If you watch your costs, and I always watch my costs.
Catherine: Watch your costs and watch your margins.
Seán Kelly: Exactly.
Catherine: So, Seán, a couple of slightly curve ball questions now. What keeps you awake at night, if anything?
Seán Kelly: The most that’ll keep me awake at night is an Irish coffee.
Catherine: [Laughs] Because of what’s in it?
Seán Kelly: [laughs] Yes.
Catherine: And not the caffeine, I presume?
Seán Kelly: It is the caffeine. I haven’t drunk tea or coffee for maybe 20 years, so if I’ve an Irish coffee it keeps me awake. No, I’ve a knack of when I go home, I can switch off. At this stage of my life, I can switch off. OK, I will wake up maybe at 4:00 in the morning thinking of things, but I can go back to sleep again.
Catherine: Thinking of ideas?
Seán Kelly: Of ideas, yes. It’s all about… It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s not fully made yet and we’re putting all the pieces together all the time. It’s just like that.
Catherine: It’s a constant iteration-
Seán Kelly: It is.
Catherine: When you started out all those years ago, if you knew then what you know now about being an artisan butcher, what, if anything, would you have done differently?
Seán Kelly: I don’t think I’d have been able to do anything different because we’re in a very small town, and on the very west coast of Ireland. As I said to you, our next parish is Manhattan in America. There’s nothing behind me now except 3,000 miles of sea. We’re literally on the coast.
A number of years ago we were making the black pudding. We were entering competitions and that’s how it went for me, and I saw that If our business is to grow, we had to start manufacturing pudding and sausages and that’s what we started doing. It worked very well for us. Would I have changed anything? I don’t think so. I always maintained I’ve never gone to work. It’s a hobby for me and I get paid for my hobby, so that’s it/
Catherine: You’re obviously very content.
Seán Kelly: Yes, yes, I am. I like … I love meeting people. I love to talk to people. When we are in the shop and people come in, you talk to them. That’s what it’s all about.
Catherine: The customers like that as well, don’t they?
Seán Kelly: Oh, you have to say hello to people. No matter what business you’re at today, no matter what you’re doing. The hardest thing in business is to get the customer into your premises, and when you get them in, you look after them. You talk to them. You say, ‘Good morning’. You go into stores now, they’ll grunt at you. They won’t even say ‘Good morning’.
Catherine: Indeed, if they even look at you.
Seán Kelly: Exactly, and I think that’s very sad because you’re going in there, you want to spend money. Whether they own the premises or not you say ‘Good morning’, or ‘Good evening’, or ‘Good afternoon’. Say something, but just don’t stand there and look … We’ve always instilled that, to say ‘Good morning’. You might abuse an odd customer right… But that’s West of Ireland humour. You don’t abuse them by insulting them, no.
Catherine: It’s banter, isn’t it?
Seán Kelly: It’s banter. Exactly. You know who you’d be abusing because you’d be expecting just as much back. And that’s it.
Catherine: Give and take, yeah. So, finally, what advice would you have for people considering setting up specifically a meat business?
Seán Kelly: The biggest advice I would give in the meat business, and this is very simple one: you take off your watch, and you don’t start at 9am and say, ‘I’m going to start now today at 9am, I finish at 7 in the evening’. It doesn’t work that way. I’ve often closed the shop at 7pm and gone off, buying stock or looking at stock for next week and the following week. It doesn’t start that way. We start at 7:00 and if you start at 6:00, you start at 6:00 but the 8-hour day doesn’t come in to it. I’d say for the last 3 or 4 months I have worked 6 days a week, multiplied by 12 hours a day is 72 hours a week.
If you are working for yourself in business, you do that and if you’re setting up a meat business, always go back to the source. If you go as far back to the source of where the animal comes from, then that is it.
Catherine: That’s the farmer, isn’t it?
Seán Kelly: That’s the farmer, or if you get a good premises that’s an abattoir, or a factory. Build up trust with them, build up trust with them and that’s very important. They know what you want and if you have to pay a few pence more, cents more, per kilo for the right stuff, pay it. Don’t be saying it’s dear, just pay it. Providing it ticks all the boxes.
Catherine: Because quality is paramount?
Seán Kelly: Of course it is. That’s the bottom line.
Catherine: You just very briefly mentioned our next neighbours is Manhattan. So we are on bang on the edge of the Wild Atlantic Way, which is relatively a new way of packaging this area?
Seán Kelly: Yes.
Catherine: It’s a wonderful concept, isn’t it?
Seán Kelly: In Wales, you have the marsh lamb and pré-salé lamb in France. I maintain the lamb on the west coast of Ireland, is as good as any of them for the simple reason: we have the Atlantic Way, and we have the Atlantic ocean and the salt water is blowing onto the land. It changes the context of the meat. The meat tastes way better in the west coast. I have people coming down from the east coast, Dublin city, and they can’t understand the difference in the taste of the lamb. People say I’m mad when I say this, but I maintain that the salt water on the land gives a different taste to the meat than it does to that on the east coast.
Catherine: I know Achill lamb is lovely-
Seán Kelly: Yes. It’s a lovely taste, but Newport lamb is just the same … It’s the same thing. I maintain that it’s the salt water … the salt water onto the land in all these areas has just a big an effect on the meat as the herbs of whatever they’re eating, the grass that they’re eating. And I’m getting there. People are beginning to understand what I’m saying, but I believe that.
Catherine: Seán, that’s pretty much it. I think I’ve asked you everything I wanted to ask.
Seán Kelly: There’s one last statement, and I only heard it yesterday that all the animals we kill, they’re all vegetarian. [Laughs]
Catherine: Yes, of course they are indeed.
Seán Kelly: [Laughing] I’m going to leave it at that.
Catherine: A very good thought to ponder. Thank you very much indeed, Seán, for your time. I really appreciate it.
Seán Kelly: Okay, Catherine, you’re welcome.
Thank you again Seán for taking the time to talk about your business.
You can visit Kelly’s of Newport website at kellysbutchers.com and the company is on Facebook at facebook.com/KellysButchersNewport
All links mentioned in the show are available at the show’s website which is myartisanbusiness.com. You can also download a free transcript of the show there. To get updates on when I publish new episodes of the show, subscribe to my email list at myartisanbusiness.com and I’ll let you know when new episodes are live.
You can find me on Twitter as @FoodDrinkShow so please do get in touch if you have any comments or questions. Until next time, I’m Catherine Moran, happy cooking, happy brewing, happy fermenting and thank you for listening.