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Firms eating up technology

Traditional butchers and food providers are boosting revenue online, says John Daly.

FIFTH-generation butcher, Pat Whelan, learnt the trade in the traditional manner, but has adjusted to social media, as have other food businesses.

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t involved in the trade,” he says.

Pat has modernised the Clonmel business, James Whelan Butchers, which is named after his father. Pat studied meat technology in the Dublin Institute of Technology, and raises the company’s Aberdeen Angus beef on the family’s 200-acre farm at Garrentemple. Whelan’s pork, ham and poultry comes from local farmers, members of the Tipperary Food Producers, of which he was a founding member in 2007. Pat has harnessed social media to streamline the business and forge new markets in the downturn.

“We have developed the profile of the business through the use of social media,” he says. “And through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, we are continuing to grow a loyal clientele in every way that allows.”

The online shop has paid dividends. “We have developed the business to the extent that we can service any area in Ireland or the UK overnight, which has opened us up to a much larger market and allowed to us grow during some very difficult recent years,” he says.

The website, which has been constantly updated since 2001, is an alternative turnover stream and has expanded his customer base. “We have embraced those parts of emerging technologies that were useful to our business, and we continue to develop it as an efficient and convenient tool for our customers to use and enjoy.”

Belvelly Smoke House had minimal technology. The smoke house — the only one of its kind for smoking fish in Ireland — is made of timber and the only equipment is a thermometer.

“The smoked salmon is done when it’s done, not when a machine tells us it should be ready,” says Frank Hederman, who runs the business with his partner, Caroline Workman. But he now has a decent broadband provider, after years of frustration.

“Having tried every option, we now use a satellite provider, as this seems to be the only dependable system for a rural user. This has allowed us to use all the automated technology for shipping, and has permitted a workable, networked system between the smokehouse and our home office.

After decades of rather quaint, handwritten invoices, we have computerised invoicing, and are heavy users of online banking.” Belvelly will shortly launch an online shop and revamped website compatible with mobile technology.

“Our main aim is for it to alleviate the administrative burden we face every Christmas. Much as we love discussing what people are having for their Christmas meal, we are generally up the walls. We also hope it will make it easier for our customers to order.”

“Avoca is a very diversified company, with shops, clothing, food, deli and café elements, as well as a wholesale business and garden centres,” says Tom Kelly, digital manager.

“The key thing that technology offers Avoca is to have a connection with its very diverse customer base. We want to use social media as effectively as we can... Ninety per cent of what we now sell online is Avoca-made products, compared to the early days, when we attempted to market a much wider range. That proved logistically challenging and we found it more rewarding, in the long run, to concentrate on own-brand products.” But social media are a necessity.

“If you have an active customer base of people who are coming to your stores on a regular basis, social media enables a continual dialogue. The difficulty is how you translate that connection into direct sales.”

Gold River Farm is one of the largest organic growers in Ireland, producing seasonal vegetables for hotels and restaurants.

The company has received the Bridgestone Award since 2005, and Eurotoque Cavan Crystal, for best food producer.

“We deal directly with about 80 chefs in various hotels and restaurants, so the absolute need for technology within the company has been minimal so far,” says co-owner Mark Winterbottom.

“In terms of building good relationships with our current customers and also adding to that list, our products are our essential marketing campaign — they are our best advertising. That said, we do see the benefits of having a greater online presence, not just for promoting Gold River Farm and the products we grow, but also to enable our potential customers to learn more about the places we are currently supplying.”

Email has assisted greatly the daily ordering and delivery of the company’s products, and further development of Facebook and Twitter is among their future plans.


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