Carving out a new niche

The Irish Times – Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BARRY O’HALLORAN

FUTURE PROOF Brady Family Ham: Its deli products lead the premium market – now Brady Family Ham is hoping to repeat the success with pre-packed range

BRADY FAMILY Ham is showcasing some of its products at this week’s National Ploughing Championships in New Ross, and is putting €1 million into a marketing and media campaign to support the launch of its new range of pre-packed deli products.

The company has been trading since 1978, when Ossie and Mary Brady set out to bring quality Irish food to supermarket deli counters. Its current owners, Bill and Patricia O’Brien, who shared many of their views, bought it in 2000, and began to bring it to the next level.

The business now employs about 200 people in Timahoe, Co Kildare, and Birr, Co Offaly, and has sales of more than €30 million a year. According to O’Brien, it is growing at about 20 per cent annually.

That does not meant that the recession is passing by unnoticed. O’Brien says that the company is seeing significant changes in consumers’ behaviour. “They are much more focused on both quality and value,” he says.

With an eye on that, the company sources raw materials in Ireland, and everything it uses is Bord Bia approved. It buys its basic product, ham, from primary producers such as Dawn Meats and Staunton’s.

The ham is basically the animal’s hind legs. The company’s craft butchers prepare these, and they are then cooked according to the business’s own recipes.

Unlike most of the pre-packed hams you buy from chilling cabinets, they are not tumbled or processed.

What the company is selling, in effect, is the same product that you get at the deli counter, but it is pre-packed, which is a new departure.

Getting the deli-counter product into a pre-packed format was not as easy as it might seem. O’Brien says it took three years of work by head of product development Louise Brennan and her staff to find the solutions.

The next stage is getting shelf space in the supermarkets and building awareness of the new product. This is where the €1 million spend comes in.

The company already has a loyal following – its deli products are number one in the premium category. The new pre-packed format is designed to build on that and, hopefully, to bring in new customers.

The company is continuing to expand on the back of all this but faces a number of challenges.

It is recruiting 25 people, but O’Brien says the company is finding it difficult to hire people who are on social welfare. A key issue is not money but the loss of other benefits. What tends to happen, he says, is that people fear that if they take a job and then lose it within a short period of time, it could take two to three months for their benefits to be restored, which could leave them financially vulnerable.

O’Brien says this is a problem regularly encountered by small and medium-sized businesses.

A second issue is regulation. O’Brien says the problem is that his company has to deal with so many different bodies. Its facilities are subject to regular inspections by “up to a dozen different agencies”, he points out, and argues that their work could be done by one body, cutting costs for both business and the State.

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