It was over a drink following the Taste of Dublin 2009 festival that Grazerfield, the company behind the Derry Clarke Kitchen range, was born. During the event, l'Ecrivain's Clarke sold 9,000 burgers and thousands of sausages. As Clarke and his meat supplier Michael Bermingham of M&K meats toasted their success, Michael's brother Donal pointed out there could be a business in the venture.
Michael Bermingham and Clarke already knew each other well. The former set up M&K Meats, which specialises in the wholesale trade and supplying the catering industry, about 20 years ago. It has one shop, with a second shop likely to open this year. Customers of his wholesale business include Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.
Clarke too had become a customer, and in turn a friend of Michael Bermingham, and the new venture seemed to marry their expertise. Clarke knows the flavours that work together and Michael knows if they can make them work production-wise. Operations manager Donal Bermingham brings retail expertise – having worked for the likes of Dunnes, Currys and Brown Thomas – and ensures the products aren't too artisan, as they want to be able to cater for the mass market.
They've now launched 18 products, including three types of sausage that have won awards at the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland awards. Everything from Connemara Hill lamb to a Guinness and apricot black pudding have already been introduced.
Donal said the company is very conscious of its pricing structure and was "trying to be as competitive on that as we can". Four quarter pounders made from Hereford beef cost €4.19 and the company works with retailers to improve product awareness. It's also planning promotions – Grazerfield did a €3.99 breakfast pack at Christmas and is looking to expand and improve on that offering this year.
"There's a market for high-end food at affordable prices; cooking programmes mean people care about what they eat, they want to make their choices more Irish and Grazerfield's ingredients and packaging are 100% Irish," Donal said. Getting the packaging right was "huge", and key to differentiating the brand in the market. "But if packaging gets it bought the first time, the quality of the product will get them to buy the second and third times," he said.
Five new products are due in March and Clarke is also developing a number of chutneys and relishes to expand the portfolio. The products are already stocked by 60 SuperValu stores around the country, Harvey Nichols, Avoca, Wilde & Green, Fallon & Byrne and other food stores.
"Initially, we started off small – we went into high-end shops like Avoca and Wilde & Greene, then did some supermarkets through the Super Valus," he said. "If you can offer something Irish at a good price with the right margin they're interested. We're trying to get a template now for mixed cases that can be supplied to convenience stores."
Also on the agenda for Donal is securing listings with the supermarket giants. "We would love to meet and get stocked by larger retailers and will do preliminary work on the export market, with a view to entering that next year," he said.
So far the company has been self-funded by Clarke and Michael Bermingham and it plans to continue in that vein for the near future. "After the Sunday of the Taste of Dublin, you could see that the market for the products meant there was a business there, and a couple of months later they talked about it in greater detail, about the retail side of things and saw an opportunity," Donal said.
They weren't too worried about the downturn, Michael said, because although a lot of people had to cut back on their spending, they don't tend to cut back on what they eat. It has had some knock-on effects on restaurants and the wholesale business, however. "What's going to survive is quality and service," he said. "Another thing is being creative and unique. It's about doing something different. It's not necessarily cheaper cuts, it's alternative cuts that might require more work in the kitchen. People are more hands on with their business." He welcomes that and says the agribusiness has a key role to play in reinvigorating the country's economy.
In the end though, it's the staples that sell well. As Michael puts it: "Everybody loves a burger."
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