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The Long Game

Article appeared in issue 5, 2021

O’Brien Fine Foods has the German market in its sights, and managing director John O’Brien believes quality over quantity is key to sustainable success

Carrying the torch from one family to another, Bill and Patricia O’Brien bought the Brady Family company from Ossie and Mary Brady in 2000, growing it from 18 employees then to over 500 today. Now, the renamed O’Brien Fine Foods is the market-leading producer of award-winning cooked meats, which includes 100% Irish grass-fed Angus beef and premium Irish pork products that are traditionally cured and slow cooked. The company is also the leading producer of own-label products for five of the six major retailers in Ireland, including Tesco, Lidl, Dunnes Stores, Musgrave and BWG. Here, we speak to managing director John O’Brien about the company’s plans for the German market, and why he believes the Irish food and drink sector should opt for better rather than bigger.

“We have a number of brands and product ranges, and produce a variety of private label ranges across the Irish market. We are best known for our Brady Family brand, and in recent years, Green Farm and Homebird. We offer a range of traditional ham products and have recently introduced 100% Irish Angus grass fed cooked and cured beef.

We are now focused on securing retail listings for our Brady Family brand in mainland Europe. We have a range of cooked meats which have researched well with German consumers, including Traditional Turf Smoked Ham; Whiskey and Sweet Apple Ham; 100% Irish Angus Beef and 100% Irish Angus Pastrami.

Why Germany?

We know that Brady Family will bring a fresh, new product offering to European consumers and we also felt it was important to look further afield, as our research indicated that UK consumers are becoming increasingly inclined to buy British.

We began to focus on the German market in 2019 as it’s a large market with a positive perception of Irish produce, due largely to successful Irish brands, most notably, Kerrygold. In the last number of years, Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) along with the wider beef producer community, have successfully promoted beef in Germany and further cemented the perception that Ireland produces sustainable, high-quality foods. We were encouraged to learn, from our research, that German consumers place great value on supporting family businesses, which of course is the heart of O’Brien Fine Foods. Positive feedback was given when the Brady Family brand name was presented to consumer focus groups.

Regarding our product offering, consumers reacted positively to our cured beef. It was different to products they normally see on the retail shelves, and it sparked their curiosity. It’s a traditional cure that the company has used for more than forty years. Our turf smoked ham has a truly Irish twist and, of course, all our pork is Bord Bia approved, Irish meat. We source our pork within a 200-mile radius of our business. Our beef is grass fed and comes from Ballymahon, less than an hour from our production site in Timahoe. We aim to include the new grass-fed logo on our packaging to highlight the positive impact that using grass fed beef has on both animal welfare and the environment. We believe in supporting Irish producers and always strive to source locally. For every euro we spend, 96.7 cent of it is spent in Ireland, and we aim to further increase this with future initiatives. We work with partners such as Spice O’ Life in West Cork to create unique, full-bodied flavours which enhance our products.

We are committed to providing a top-tier level of service to our customers and this involves aiming to improve the overall cooked meats category. Retailers are looking for ways to improve their categories and list products that will drive incremental sales. Growing the value of their sales is always a priority and that’s why we focus on category growth and have done so through innovation. We have brought more products to market in the last few years than ever before and Brady Family sales in 2021 have been driven by new premium ranges. We are excited to see how this evolves and how newly launched products, like our beef, continue to perform.

We strongly believe in the food and agri sector in Ireland and aim to add value to the sector. Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, on premiumisation and branding rather than volume. We should be striving to showcase the best of what Ireland has to offer and we believe that Brady Family strongly reflects the skill and expertise within the Irish food industry. Brand success takes time, perseverance, and patience but as a family business we are wholeheartedly dedicated to ensuring the longevity and success of the business and are willing to take that long term view.

Sustainable success

We are an ambitious, intergenerational Irish business with a deep connection to our locality. From the green hills and heather bogs, we strive to nurture and protect the beauty of our Irish countryside. Meat will continue to be pose challenges over the coming years in terms of farming practices and sustainability, and we will continue to drive and support industry improvements in relation to animal welfare and sustainability standards.

77% of our company’s Co2 comes from the meat we buy so we are working with our primary processors to work towards improving the overall environmental impact. We plan to eradicate 85% of the remaining 23% we generate on our sites by 2025, rising to 100% by 2030. The product range we plan to launch in mainland Europe will be 100% recyclable, as will our products available in Ireland by the end of this year. We are keenly aware that all new ventures must align with our sustainability targets.

In 2016, we constructed four traditional peat wetland ponds over a 20-acre space beside our production facility in Timahoe. The wetlands receive the treated wastewater from our effluent treatment plant and store carbon from the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis and act as sediment traps for runoff. Our wetlands support diverse ecosystems for flora and fauna and contribute to the biodiversity of the local area. Used not only as an educational and recreational area for employees, the wetlands improve the water quality of nearby rivers as the water filtering off the wetlands is of high quality which enables aquatic life to flourish. Minimising our water and power usage has always been important, it makes good business sense and its good operating practise, from reducing costs to caring for the environment.

As a business, we are of course cognisant that some consumers are opting to eat less animal proteins, however, we are confident that consumers who do select animal proteins are prioritising the purchase of premium products. Producing less low-quality products and focusing on premium offerings is much better for the environment, for the premiumisation of the industry and, ultimately, better for the consumer.”