Back in black
Returning to its home town in 2017, where it now operates from a custom-built facility, Clonakilty Blackpudding Company continues to produce the famous blackpudding that people have come to associate with this part of County Cork
With a history dating back to the 1600s, Clonakilty is today a busy market town in West Cork, renowned for its boutique shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and range of local artisan food producers, the best known of which includes Clonakilty Blackpudding Company (Clonakilty). The story behind this local icon began in the 1800s in the farmhouse of one Johanna O’Brien. It was from here that she made and sold her blackpudding to the local butchers’ shop owned by Phillip Harrington, utilising a secret recipe of spices, with beef, oats, onions and blood, to create a unique, special product. It was Phillip who Johanna ultimately passed her precious recipe onto upon retiring.
In the years since, the blackpudding has always been made in the same way and the secret behind its creation has passed on to different people, culminating in 1976, when the recipe and the butchers shop from which it is combined was sold to Edward and Colette Twomey. “In the early years, it was really a case of finding our feet, however it did not take long at all to realise just how popular the blackpudding had become among the community,” Clonakilty MD and owner Colette begins. “People would travel from all over the local area to buy it from us, and as word spread about the quality of the product it helped to bring in more customers.”
At the time, virtually every butcher in the region was producing a version of blackpudding but none could compare to or encapsulate the unique authentic taste of Clonakilty. As the popularity of Clonakilty grew and it proved difficult to match the taste of the infamous secret recipe, an opportunity presented itself for Colette and Edward to supply Clonakilty blackpudding directly to these butchers.
“This was the moment that encouraged us to place a label on our blackpudding and officially call it Clonakilty,” Colette reveals. Hiring a local sign writer, the label was designed to incorporate the heritage of the product and the values that it stood for, namely tradition, quality, locality and the Harrington name. From here, the next logical step was to expand the brand’s product range to incorporate complementary food items, such as whitepudding, sausages and bacon.
In a relatively short space of time, the reach of Clonakilty’s products has stretched from the local area and clusters of expats based in the UK, to the point where today they can be found stocked on the shelves of some of the UK’s leading supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Morrisons, online retailer Ocado, and are also accessible in Europe, Australia and the Middle East. “When people are introduced to our blackpudding, and chefs and consumers start to get their hands on it, they immediately see how crumbly it is and how, with it being made up of such a small list of natural ingredients, it can in fact be used as more than just an element of a fry up breakfast,” Colette states. “This has resulted in an increase in consumers cooking with Clonakilty in a variety of ways; such as adding it to salads, using it as a delicious pizza topping, crumbling it into pasta or using it as a mouth-watering stuffing for chicken fillets. Today’s consumers make up what we have come to know as a ‘foodie culture’, where people want to put their own spin on their food, and it is this culture that has helped our products to diversify, which in turn has driven our own growth in recent times.”
This diversification and flexibility contributed to a good year when it comes to financial performance in 2017 for Clonakilty, during which the company managed to surpass its targets, both in terms of revenues and expansion. “The Irish market in particular continues to display positive signs of growth, while in the UK we have managed to achieve the fairly ambitious aims that we set for ourselves, even in the face of uncertain and at times challenging economic conditions,” Colette adds.
It is because of such achievements that the company was able to realise a dream back in October 2017, when it returned home to Clonakilty, having previously been located for a number of years in Cork during the expansion of the business, with the opening of a new custom-built production facility. This new facility features 5000 square metres of production space, new product development suites, an improved distribution bay and administration office space.
“It was always our ambition and intention to return to Clonakilty, and we are incredibly proud of our new home, which will facilitate our vision for growth as we plan to scale-up internationally,” Colette enthuses. “In the food industry, standards are improving on almost a daily basis, and frankly our operations in Cork were not futuristic enough to respond to this in the long-term. As a result of this we invested a considerable amount in building a facility that will allow us to future proof the business and provide us with a strong platform from which to build upon going forward.”
The new facility will also play host to a new direction for the company, when it officially opens its own visitor’s centre later in 2018. “We have found that more and more people each year come to Clonakilty wanting to know and see how our blackpudding is made,” Colette explains. “In response to this we are creating an audio-visual experience for visitors to our facility to get a real feel for the history of the product and a sense of the value of our operations. In doing so we also look forward to becoming an essential part of the town’s bustling tourism industry.”
With its return to Clonakilty complete, the focus of the business turns to both the introduction of new products and its desire to capitalise on opportunities across the UK, which it still sees as being the source of its greatest growth potential. To achieve this, Colette and her team will be working harder than ever to advertise the quality of Clonakilty’s products and the ingredients that go into them. “Where new products are concerned, we are constantly interacting with our customers, listening to their ideas and thoughts in order to find out what they want, and how we can give this to them,” Colette says.
Whether it is the creation of a new product line or the preparation of an old Clonakilty favourite, one thing is clear and that is that when it comes to quality there can never be any compromise. “Having a strong eye and ethos when it comes to quality has served us immensely well over the years, and allowed us to remain competitive in a changing business environment. While it is perhaps true that there are things that we could do that would make our lives a little bit easier, such as using dried onions in our recipe rather than the freshly peeled kind that we prepare each day, or use suppliers that could provide services at a cheaper rate, if those are things that even threaten to have an impact on the quality of our products we would never, ever entertain the idea. Quality is what Clonakilty has always been known for and we have no desire for that to change,” Colette concludes.