Article appeared in issue 1, 2023
From Galway to the Gulf
New year, new name: William’s Gate Master Victuallers is the new moniker for Heaney Meats, which was bought by BWG UC in 2019, and with it comes a new focus and business positioning. IrishFood spoke to managing director, and industry veteran, Allan Morris about the company’s top-class production facility in west-of-Ireland Co. Galway, and exporting to the gulf region
William’s Gate is one of the largest foodservice companies in Ireland with a sole focus on protein, and an investment of more-than €3m has created a state-of-the-art facility in the west of Ireland, for packaging for foodservice and retail clients. Being a part of BWG UC, which owns and operates retail brands such as Spar, Mace, Londis, XL and Gala, enables the company to respond quickly to ever-changing trends and requirements within the chilled-meats space.
Allan explains: “We offer full retail modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) capabilities, along with state-of-the-art skin packing, thermoforming, and burger-forming preparations. We have several own brands and tertiary brands that can be used globally.”
Thanks in part to its location along the Wild Atlantic Way, William’s Gate is ‘blessed with some of the most sustainable and desirable food products in the world,’ he says. “It’s a beautiful and unspoilt part of the world where food and food production are of the highest quality. Our grass-fed beef is highly prized, globally, by consumers for its natural production methods and our sustainable and regenerative farming methods. Our beef is farmed within 70km of our site which, in global terms, is unrelatable to the scale of some of the food produced in the world, particularly beef.”
The Galway facility is certified by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine across all species and preparations, which is unique for a production facility. “This standard validates our process of traceability and species control on-site and allows us to export globally. We are also members of Bord Bia’s (Irish food board) Meat Processing Quality Assurance Scheme (MPQAS) and Origin Green, Ireland’s food and drink sustainability programme. We have gained HQC Halal approval for this site, which is testament to our quality standards of species segregation and control.”
Gains in the Gulf
Throughout his career, Allan has worked with Kepak Group, and as managing director of Donald Russell International, and John Stone Fine Foods, and he will call on this expertise to guide William’s Gate through its first exporting year. “I have been operating in the Middle East for over 12 years. Foodservice and retail are where we will look to but across different formats and brands to suit the exacting standards of the market. "Licences have always been an issue for the Middle East, such as Halal accreditation. The work that the Dubai Government and Dubai Municipality have done in the last few years has helped create a clear process and the transparency needed today to service this dynamic region. My experience of working with these two government agencies is invaluable. We have also worked very hard with HQC in terms of standards and processes in order to gain the accreditation needed for export, not only to Dubai, but the Muslim community globally.”
When asked about the learnings he has gleaned exporting to the Middle East, he believes trust is key, and he has some sterling advice. “Lots of people come to this region [Gulf] looking to enter quickly and become rich. The community is looking for long-term relationships with trust and integrity. The sales process is consultative rather than transactional and it takes time to get established. Do not think just because you have a distributor, your work is done – it’s not! Be prepared for some shoe leather and flights to the region. Research is where it’s at, and do it yourself because nobody knows your product and positioning better than you, so try to understand a little of where you sit in the market when you meet potential clients. Lastly, paperwork, accreditation and attention to detail are key in this region, check and check again that you have the correct paperwork, accreditation and certification.”
Allan believes the Irish messaging around reliability and sustainability resonates with the Middle East audience. “Ornua, with Kerrygold, has been active in this region for decades, and some of the most experienced dairy professionals have worked with, and in, local industry over the years, reinforcing that connection with Ireland. Irish produce is available across all sectors and our message of sustainability with Origin Green is clearly understood in this region. The United Arab Emirates’ President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has declared 2023 the Year of Sustainability ahead of the country’s staging of the COP28 climate summit. For a desert region, sustainability has been a part of the message for some time, and Ireland’s message in this arena is well known and respected.”
The Gulf region is the first port of call in an ambitious export strategy. “The Middle East is a market we know well so we will explore all regions and then look to Asia soon after. China will be a market that we will not look to until 2024 – but we never say never!”
Closer to home, he is mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. “As labour beings to tighten in foodservice, we have innovation in portioning, packaging and cost control which will help us. In terms of retail, our experience of the BWG Group and trends, along with branding and packaging, will see a new sales channel for us in this area for the future.”
Allan is deemed one of the world’s foremost authorities on dry ageing beef. Here, he explains its appeal. “I started dry ageing beef as a young apprentice in the 1980s but did not truly understand its significance until the early 1990s when I went to work with John Stone MBE. John was a pioneer in quality beef and had written the seminal Meat Buyers Guide which became the bible of refining meat production specifications and standards.
“Dry ageing is complex. It’s not as simple as placing meat in a fridge and waiting until it turns black. There is a fine balance of the right product to start with, the control of the airflow, humidity, and temperature along with a skilled hand and eye to complete the process. The flavour that comes from this meat is truly enlightening for the palate. The intense beef flavour and balanced succulence from grass fed beef is highly desirable amongst steak connoisseurs. Demand for this high-quality meat is now global as consumers start to fully understand the deep flavours and eating differences of meat.”