McCormack Family Farms in Co Meath produces herbs and baby leaf greens for supermarkets and the hospitality sector all over the country. Stephen McCormack talks about how the business has grown and its plan to move into the drinks market.
What do you do at McCormack Farms?
We’re suppliers of herbs and baby leaves to the Irish market. Baby leaf means the likes of roquette, spinach and mixed leaves to several different markets.
Currently we’re suppliers to national supermarket brands, the civil service sector, and the hospitality sector.
Where does the story of your farm begin?
You’d have to go back to 1984 to see where it all started. My father Edward worked for Warrenstown College.
Warrenstown was dedicated to teaching horticulture and growing their own produce. My father was the salesman for the produce and he was pretty good at his job, so, eventually he thought that if he was pretty good selling it, maybe he’d be pretty good growing it.
So he left his job and went about growing a few acres and it all began from there.
What will the market demand be in the future?
That means varieties, new growing techniques and the new markets that can work with our produce.
We lost a lot of good workers when the Celtic Tiger came around, so we had to develop new ways of growing more with fewer people.
So, the development of the herb side of the business allowed us to work with 2-3 staff and it seemed like we were starting all over again, but we made it work and we’re still growing both on and off the fields.
Have you seen a change in how the Irish market supports Irish as well?
I think during the boom time most people didn’t really care about buying Irish. Everybody was in such a rush and so distracted that it wasn’t really a big concern.
When the recession came, businesses everywhere started to fail.
All of a sudden, the realities of not supporting the domestic market came into play, so people began to look at the origins of their food and where it came from...
Now, when I walk into a meeting or go to a supermarket, I always think about Irish people who stuck by Irish growers in that time.
But we’ve seen a big change in diets too, a healthier attitude?
I would say that nutrition has been the main driver of our business in the past two years...
So the healthier, more nutritious attitude of the consumer has driven our business tenfold in recent years.
How do you compete with growers with better climates and a longer season?
In 2010, we decided that we needed to put a big emphasis on marketing McCormack Farms. Our brand is ‘Loose and Lively’, that’s what people would see us as in the stores. When you go about doing that, you are engaging people with your brand.
You have to make sure that you keep your product to a certain standard. Nothing is worse for a brand or a company where people buy your product and it goes in the bin shortly afterwards.
We have a consistency in everything we do, from our technical end, to growing, to packaging, to shelf life, taste and colour.
You have to look at every time a customer picks up our produce, in that time we will get only one chance to impress. If we succeed, they will buy us again, if we fail they won’t.
You only have that one chance, so everything about the product needs to be right and that is how we look at competing and what we offer people.
Has there been a shift then in how farms are marketing themselves?
Yes, I mean in the past year we’ve developed the social media side of what we do a lot more.
We want people to see the start-to-finish process, when they can see for themselves and know where and how it has come out of the ground... People love to see to how we produce what they eat and it’s been a real benefit to how people see us as a brand.
Do the Irish seasons play a big part in business?
They used to, but not so much any more. On the farm, it tends to be seasonal work, but we also have two growers in Spain and three in Italy. They are an exact copy of what we are doing here in Ireland.
We audit them every year, we make trips to those farms, as well.
We are not going to deal with people who would jeopardise the McCormack Farm name. I mentioned consistency before and that is really important. What they supply must be as good as what we produce here.
It is because of this that we can keep the majority of our staff on all year round through our factory. We are a 52-weeks-of-the-year operation.
And you’re hoping to branch out in the drinks market too?
We’re always interested in new product development, and healthy drinks and smoothies have a lot to do with what we produce.
We started a new juice line and we have three new juices out. That came about by asking what we can do with the products that we’re already producing.
Spinach, kale and beetroot have become significant additives to health-juice drinks. We are using apple and orange juice as a base and there is no pulp, no waste of the produce themselves.
We hope that Raw Juice will also be a quick alternative to what we are already giving people.
We’re doing the Tesco Taste Bud programme, which is giving us knowledge of what it takes to bring a product to shelves.
As I said earlier we’re always looking at what the market can bring next and how what we do can match that in order for us to grow and not stand still.
For more information go to www.mccormackfarms.ie
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