Blue Haven foods eating up during Christmas rush

IN the final run-in to Christmas, business is booming at the Blue Haven Food Company as last-minute orders are readied for supermarket shelves around the country.

“I am very glad to be able to say this during these very tough economic times, but we have been seriously up the wall filling our order book for the last six weeks,” says sales manager Con Baggot. “Only last week, we got an order for 25,000 pates, which was unexpected in its size but obviously an order we are very happy to fill. Given the time that’s in it, our team are also flat-out with Christmas hampers at the moment — which are proving a very popular gift amongst foodies.” The company produces 17 products, including its top-selling seafood range of chowder, fish pie and smoked salmon paté.

Added to that are a variety of soups, a grocery range of jams, marmalades and dressing, as well as a bakery list of cookies, flapjacks, caramel squares and desserts. The company supplies products to major chains like Dunne’s Stores, Supervalu, Centra, Spar, Londis, Kylemore Cafes, as well as Fallon and Byrne, Mortons, Gourmet Bank, Donnybrook Fair, Fresh, Pallas Foods and St James’s hospital.

“It is very rewarding to be part of an innovative company,” Baggott says. “I have 20 years’ experience in this field and have found that my job with Blue Haven is easy in that the brand name is so strong it helps open doors to potential customers by itself.

“At the new production facility in Little Island, we have a full factory running 24/7 making gourmet food products. Feed-back has always been important to us and has given us pointers to what products work best — an example of which is our fish family of products — chowder, fish pie and pate. The fact that they have won awards makes my job a great deal easier — and will undoubtedly help our move into the UK market next year,” he says.

The company was awarded two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards in the UK for its seafood chowder. The Guild of Fine Food, which organises the awards, is seen by many as the Michelin stars of the food retail sector, and is the national benchmark for specialty food and drink in the UK, attracting more than 4,500 entries each year.

“We make everything fresh from local suppliers and now supply nationwide to all the major stores. We also are doing large volumes with BWG Group, Tesco and Dunnes as well as Supervalu and Centra nationwide,” he says. “We also have a number of hotels interested in stocking our product range, as well as cafes to save them on labour and kitchen costs, but we are selective on which outlets we would take on in this way.” Over the past year, sales at the company have grown 200% — a figure Baggot is confident will be further increased in 2012 to a target of €2m.

“We are now in the process of automating the plant to improve efficiencies,” he says. “We are virtually nationwide in our coverage, save for a few parts of the west that we are addressing at the moment. Food is a tough business, but, thankfully, a good sector to be in and indeed one of the greatest causes for optimism in the Irish economy going forward.”

Baggott cites the company’s new Charlie Chowder kids’ range as having particular potential through its campaign to encourage healthy eating. “It’s something we’re testing the market with right now — a blue chowder for boys and pink for girls — tackling a serious topic in a fun way,” he says. The character Charlie Chowder was designed by well-known children’s authors Colin and Jacqui Hawkins, who have previously worked on similar campaigns for Marks & Spencer.

The company’s expansion into the UK market is at an advanced stage through a commercial relationship with the Budgens chain — a sister company of Supervalu. “We plan to be supplying the UK market by February, a move that presents us with truly stunning potential for growth. Given the size of the market there, the strength of the Budgen’s brand and its potential impact on our production and employment here in Cork, the possibilities are extremely large-scale for us,” he says.

Shortlisted for the Small Company of the Year awards, the Blue Haven Food Company’s planned expansion in the years ahead is an example of the Irish food industry’s commercial importance against the ravages of the economic downturn, Baggott says.

“What is happening with us at the Blue Haven is happening all over Ireland in numerous other companies, and that is surely why this sector will play a huge part in bringing us out of recession,” he says. With a number of new sales staff being readied for the UK venture, Baggot sees the company’s employment potentially doubling by mid-2012.

“We are genuinely looking to the future with great confidence, and would be aiming to double again the 200% increase in business already achieved,” he says.

A concentrated focus on promoting the Blue Haven brand to the exclusion of all outside distractions remains his personal business template for the year ahead. “I learned a long time ago to avoid the doom and gloom as much as I can, from the moment I get out of bed in the mornings,” he says. “We are at a stage, now in this country, where those who are able must stop talking and get out there and do something. Throughout my own working life of 35 years, I’ve experienced many a bumpy patch, but I have never had to contemplate drawing the dole. There are jobs out there, maybe not enough for everybody who is unemployed, but certainly there are opportunities that are not being properly grasped,” he says. “The lack of bank credit and general financial uncertainty are making life terribly difficult for small business at present, no question, but there are pockets of optimism and reasons for confidence, definitely, apparent on the Irish business landscape in these last days of 2011.”

Name: Con Baggott

Occupation: Sales Manager, Blue Haven Food Company

Background: The Blue Haven Food Company is a catering and food manufacturing company based in Kinsale, and specialising in gourmet products for the retail and hospitality sectors. The company employs 125 people, 17 of which are jobs located at its new €1m production facility in Little Island.

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