Sunday 23 October 2016

Even after we devour €80m of crisps, industry innovators Keogh's still see room for growth

Staying true to the brand has been key to the crisp manufacturer's success, as Aisling Worth explains to John McGee

John McGee

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Aisling Worth, marketing manager at Keogh’s Crisps. Photo: Tony Gavin
Aisling Worth, marketing manager at Keogh’s Crisps. Photo: Tony Gavin

Last year, Irish people munched their way through €80m worth of crisps. While it might not be in the best interest of the nation's collective waistline, our love of crisps has created a thriving industry that appears to be going from strength to strength and providing business opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs.

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"It's a big market and it's still in growth," says Aisling Worth, marketing manager of Keogh's Farm, the family-owned company which has managed to turn the humble spuds it grows on its north county Dublin farm into a thriving business.

With over 52pc of the market, the German-owned Largo Foods and its stable of crisp brands - Tayto, King, Hunky Dory and Perri - dominates. Largo's grip on the market, however, has not deterred other ambitious brands from seeking a slice of the action.

The decision by the Keogh family to get into the business in the first place was taken back in 2010, when consumption of potatoes in Ireland declined between 2008-2010 as people switched to rice, pasta or, perhaps, ran for the hills after reading about Robert Atkins and his controversial low-carb diet regime.

"Tom Keogh, the managing director, started looking at the idea of exporting Irish potatoes to other markets like the USA but found that unless they are cooked, it wouldn't stand much of a chance.

"But it sparked an idea about manufacturing crisps and he travelled to countries like the US and New Zealand to research the market and identify where it was heading, particularly at the luxury end," says Worth.

"When he got back, he started to develop something in his mother's kitchen and once he knew he could do it, he bought the first kettle fryer from the Amish community in Pennsylvania and shipped it back to Ireland and started the business. Then in 2011, the company launched its first product."

In the space of just five years, Keogh's share of the market has grown steadily and the most recent Nielsen Scantrack report points to a 5.5pc market share at the end of June, up from 5pc in December.

Pitched at the luxury and artisan end of the market, which commands premium pricing, Keogh's success owes a lot to its brand story, its "crop to crisp" manufacturing process and the provenance of its ingredients, all of which are Irish, according to Worth.

"There are other luxury crisp brands out there but where we try to differentiate ourselves is in the quality. We are the only crisp manufacturer in Ireland that is going from crop to crisp. We know where all our potatoes come from as we only use our own potatoes. So we have full control over the main ingredient which allows us to offer a premium product," she says.

The brand-story, meanwhile, revolves around the Keogh family, who have been farming in north county Dublin for over 200 years. Unlike Mr Tayto, they are real people and two generations of them continue to work the farm every day of the week.

On social media, they share pictures of their families as well as their favourite recipes (using potatoes of course). In addition, customers can even see the fields where the actual spuds were grown by using co-ordinates on each pack to zoom in, using Google Maps, on the actual field, all of which reinforces the Keogh brand story and resonates with customers who are looking for an authenticity that many brands struggle to find.

"We don't have huge marketing or sponsorship budgets so social media is really big for us and we have built up a strong and loyal following online. For us, it's important that we maintain and grow that level of support for the brand while ensuring that we still deliver in terms of quality," says Worth.

While the Irish market is important, the company has been busy developing the export market with the help of Bord Bia.

"Exports are growing and we appointed a new export manager in January," says Worth. "We are now exporting to 14 different countries. Some of them, like Northern Ireland, are key but we are also seeing big growth in countries like the UAE, China and Germany. Bord Bia has been extremely helpful in getting us into new markets and introducing us to new buyers."

Where other crisp brands have a big following amongst the ex-pat community overseas, Keogh's has tried to avoid this, preferring instead to market its products at the premium end of the market and Ireland's record for quality food and drink products.

"Our export market is different and our customer profile is different," she says.

With seven different flavours on offer, ranging from roast beef with Irish stout right through to sweet chilli with Irish red pepper, new product development will continue to play a leading role in the company's future development.

"It's important that we continue to develop new products and we will have a new flavour out by the end of this year, but it's also important that, whatever we do, we stay true to ourselves and true to the brand," she concludes.

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