Brexit, exports and going global with Rory Fanning of Slaney Foods
While based just outside Bunclody at Clohamon, Slaney Foods is a truly global operation. Providing quality Irish beef to nearly 25 countries worldwide, the company most recently signed a major deal to export to China, a market which in all likelihood will only grow in importance as they keep one eye on developments concerning Brexit.
'It's come along very nicely,' Managing Director Rory Fanning said of the China deal. 'It takes a little bit of time to get everything in place and deal with new specifications, but we've done a lot of work with the Department of Agriculture to ensure that everything runs smoothly. The other week we had our first three containers ship out to China and three more are planned for next week. It's part of our weekly production here now.'
'I do sense further growth in Asia as well,' he continued. 'While demand in Europe is stable at best, it's growing in the far east.
There's also wealth and perhaps a larger economic growth being seen there, which is required for a growth in the market. Despite Brexit though, Britain and Europe are our main markets.'
Brexit is a newly formed word which is uttered often at the Clohamon plant. Rory and his colleagues, like the rest of us, are left watching the news to see how the political situation surrounding Britain's exit from the EU plays out, however, it has more drastic implications for the company than most.
'Britain is our number one market,' he said. 'A hard Brexit could be a very bad thing for our business and the farmers who supply us. We need politicians on the British and European side to sit down and come up with a softer Brexit, but until the political scene sorts itself out, it's something that's very difficult to prepare for. It's a matter of watching the news and seeing what happens.'
At any given time, Slaney foods employs 400 to 450 staff and deals with around 3,000 suppliers and farmers of all sizes. There were huge concerns from both sides after Larry Goodman's ABP Foods took a 50% share in the company back in 2016, culminating in IFA organised protests at the plant. However, two years on, Rory is confident that fears from all parties have now been allayed.
'Business has continued very steadily, which from the point of view of the employees as well, I suppose is a good thing,' he said. 'The deal with ABP puts us within the top three producers in Europe. As well as that, ABP has brought a knowledge and a know-how which is a great help in terms of accessing new markets. It's a very good thing in terms of growth.'
While farmers' fears may have been allayed on this issue, the current fodder crisis is dominating their thoughts currently and concerns had been expressed over factories taking advantage of farmers looking to shift stock at the height of drought conditions.
'We would say we're working with the farmers and the important thing is making sure that the animals are finished to the best quality as always,' Rory said.
'There were three to four months there where the grass just didn't grow, which is bound to have had a huge impact. We're working with local suppliers to try and get the best return for them from the market. I think farmers are very resourceful and they will find light at the end of the tunnel.'
As a Wexford company, Slaney Foods was the ideal poster child for German supermarket giants Lidl's 'Lidl Loves Wexford' campaign.
The company's Hereford Beef range has not only captured the hearts of the Irish public, but has been a success for Lidl right across Europe.
'The thing about Lidl when they came in, is that they were so interested in Irish produce,' Rory explained. 'There is no doubt that Irish beef products are genuinely the best in the world and Lidl decided that the Hereford breed wasn't as well known.
'People were tending to go for the Angus steaks and that type of thing. So they decided to look at another option and Herefords have been a huge part of Irish cattle farming for centuries.
They came to us and within our 3,000 farmers we set up a supply chain, starting out at 50 cattle per week and building up to four or five times that.
'It's something which is predominantly Wexford and South East Farmers as well, so it really was a good fit for the Lidl Loves Wexford campaign.'
With Lidl being such an important customer, Rory was delighted to attend their customer appreciation night in New Ross last week where a top of the range Webber barbecue was handed over to one lucky customer as a prize.
As Slaney Foods' global expansion continues with gusto, the lucky winner is not the only one who is cooking with gas!