Mervyn brings home the bacon

kennedySam Butler talked to Mervyn Kennedy, managing director of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh, about his locally produced bacon and his future plans. Article from Farmweek- Tuesday 12th January 2016

Mervyn Kennedy has his sights firmly set in winning business for his quality bacon from his own pigs from one of Northern Ireland’s leading supermarkets and on opportunities in the Republic of Ireland for his extensive range of products.

He’s already selling to upwards of 50 smaller food stores, including high-end delis like the Arcadia in Belfast, around the province and has been creating awareness of the quality of his bacon among discerning shoppers through regular participation and sampling sessions in farmers’ markets here and in the Republic.

His dry-cured bacon is also in the Taste of Ulster food store at Belfast International Airport and has been “great business” there, he says. “It’s a marvellous showcase of the very best of local produce,” he adds.

“I’ve been approached by several supermarkets which are interested in adding artisan products to their ranges especially during the current Year of Food and Drink. I’d been keen on supplying a supermarket prepared to showcase artisan foods and also ready to accept that smaller producers need a decent margin to sustain their business,” he continues. “The markets are great though because I enjoy the banter with and feedback from shoppers. I’ve sampled the bacon at markets across Northern Ireland and in Donegal and been immensely encouraged by the very positive feedback from shoppers.

“People are keen to know they’re buying local food and like to talk to producers about how they make the products,” he adds.

He’s working towards SALSA – Safe and Local Supplier Approval -accreditation with the technical team at Loughry campus of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise in Cookstown to help him to meet the exacting demands of supermarkets for quality processing and traceability standards.

SALSA will also help him achieve his aim to win business in the Republic for his bacon. “While there’s already quite a bit of interest in our bacon there, we need the accreditation to enable us to convert the interest into firm business especially in the Republic,” he explains.

Mervyn offers 100 per cent Northern Irish quality bacon with provenance – producing from his own herd of over 2,000 pigs on the family farm at Glenhordial, near Omagh in rural Co. Tyrone. He’s a third generation farmer on land the family has owned since moving there from Donegal back in the forties. Brother Nigel runs a dairy business on upwards of 200 acres.

“I’d always been interested in farming and particularly in rearing pigs for bacon,” he adds. “I began farming at school and decided to focus on pigs as a youngster. I subsequently began looking a ways to cure bacon to bring out the rich flavours of the meat.”

This led him to explore dry-curing techniques. “I wanted to develop different products that didn’t involve pumping the bacon with water and preservatives. Some bacon on the market today is 25 per cent water and gammon up to 30 per cent,” he continues. “My bacon is cured for between seven and nine days using my own recipe which also takes into account current health concerns particularly about salt and sugar. Our products are natural and dry-cured and have a shelf-life of around three weeks. It’s real bacon that tastes like it should.

“The bacon is cured in as near to the traditional way as possible, using the minimum amount of cure, which leaves our bacon less salty. The result is a tasty product that allows the pan/ grill to stay clean. And with no water added the bacon tastes as it should, savoury, yummy and moreish. It really is bacon at its best!”

The popularity of the products with family and friends encouraged him to push ahead with plans to bring them to a wider market. He won a UK Great Taste Award last year for the outstanding taste of his bacon.

The bacon and gammon are now prepared, sliced and packed in the small factory that he built on the farm around 15 years ago. “I originally built the factory to produce cooked ham for sandwich makers in the Greater Dublin area.

“This was during the building boom of the eighties when bacon baps and sandwiches were extremely popular on construction sites,” he adds. “The business boomed during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era and spread to Cork and Waterford.”

Then came the economic crash and work on the building sites dried up, followed by his business down there.

The enterprising businessman adapted and overcame the downturn in Republic. He decided to look again at his earlier experiments dry-curing and decided to refurbish the factory for bacon and gammon processing. “I’d never really given up the idea of dry-curing bacon. It had been on the back burner for a while,” he says.

Focusing on it again proved a wise move and has led to encouragement and support from influential organisations such as Food NI. “Michele Shirlow and the team at Food NI have been fantastic. The support they’ve been providing has been massive,” he adds.
The company’s range now includes dry-cure back bacon, dry-cure middle cut and streaky bacon, and gammon. A quality pork sausage is to be launched soon.