A fifth generation butcher, Pat Whelan, speaks with passion about the tradition of his business and how he has taken it to a new level in the digital era.
His father, James, a farmer’s son from Dungarvan, Co Waterford and his mother, Joan Scanlon, a butcher’s daughter from Cappoquin, moved from Co Waterford to Clonmel, Co Tipperary after getting married.
They opened a butcher’s shop in the south Tipperary town more than 50 years ago. It became the foundation for the award-winning business it is today. Their son, Pat, now runs James Whelan Butchers, acclaimed as one of the most innovative in the country.
It has shops in Oakville Shopping Centre, Clonmel, and in Dublin at Avoca Monkstown and Avoca Rathcoole, as well as a 170-acre farm and abattoir in Tipperary. He specialises in Angus and Hereford cattle and recently started to develop a Wagyu-Kobe herd. Quality is at the heart of all he does.
“We dry-age our beef. This means we use the traditional method developing the flavour. We don’t believe that beef can really mature if it is vac-packed in a plastic bag. When performing meat delivery, we use continual refrigeration to ensure the meat is fresh,” he said.
Pat also seeks out premium food products from local farmers, who identify with his philosophy. He has also introduced new marketing systems and is using the internet as an important tool in his business.
But he ensures that the core mission of a good traditional butcher’s shop remains the same.
It continues to play a pivotal role in the relationship consumers have with quality fresh food and remains their link with the land. Pat Whelan has learnt the skills of the farmer, stockman, slaughter-man, butcher, shopkeeper and businessman.
He was recently presented with the Bord Bia inaugural online champion special award in recognition of the impact the digital age is having on the industry. Pat Whelan, whose business employs 45 people, said good food is an investment in the future health and wellbeing of consumers.
“It is not something like a cardigan that you’d wear and throw away. It is something that can impact on your future and how you feel,” he said.
Pat Whelan said he believes this is a factor people should consider when making a purchase of any protein or any foods they are going to consume. This message is now getting across to consumers, who are moving away from just viewing food as a commodity.
Increasing numbers of consumers are also purchasing their meat online and in that context his company has earned a reputation of being a leader in this hi-tech way of doing business.
Pat Whelan has been selling online, as well as over the shop counters, since 2004. This has given his business national reach and has grown significantly.
Whelan Butchers offer overnight refrigerated delivery to any address on the island through their website www.jameswhelanbutchers.com
But perhaps his most interesting innovation of all provides Irish investors with an alternative to the financial markets by offering them the opportunity to put their money into beef bonds.
The beef bond is a certificate giving a share in one of his renowned Angus, Hereford or Wagyu-Kobe cattle. Each beef bond includes the ID number, breed and expected maturity of the animal to which it is linked. The bonds can be of short, medium or long-term maturity.
“On maturity, the investor who buys one or multiple beef bonds gets delivery of their bounty of various cuts of prime Tipperary beef. Bonds in Angus and Hereford cattle are €100 each, while bonds for the more exclusive Wagyu-Kobe Bond are €150 each.
Pat Whelan is also chairman of Tipperary Food Producers, a vibrant network of some 28 members. They are aspiring to develop an export food trade under the Tipperary brand by 2020, inspired, no doubt, by Pat Whelan’s own philosophy. That ethos is outlined in the recently published Irish Beef Book, written by Pat and Kay McGuinness, a restaurant critic and food writer.
“I think butchering is part of my DNA. It is part of what I am. I am representative of the place I am from — and the food I create and produce is from that place,” he said.
Pat believes the challenge of running a business like James Whelan Butchers today is to keep it relevant.
“It is terribly important to nod to the past while keeping an eye to the future,” he said.
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