Former soldier Paul Hayles on his new business selling Irish produce in Bulgaria
It's a big jump from serving with the Irish Army to running a food distribution company in Bulgaria, but for Paul Hayles, all the obstacles were cleared last week when his first consignment of Dawn Meat barbecue beef skewers arrived in Sofia.
The former UN peacekeeper, who worked as an electrician with the Air Corps and Army, rushed the meat to the main Bulgarian supermarket chains in time for weekend summer barbecues.
There were plenty of hazards to negotiate for the 44-year-old Tallaght man, who had to organise a refrigeration plant in Bulgaria, arrange supply systems of Irish meat products and most critically set up his own distribution system from this country to Bulgaria's supermarket shelves.
So what made him want to set up a meat importation company in Sofia?
Paul had decided to remain in the Balkans with his Bulgarian-born wife Mirela when his Army career was completed seven years ago, and two years ago he decided to branch out from his electrician background and set up his own business.
"There was a glaring gap in the market for good-quality Irish beef and lamb products so we registered our trademarks and went for it," he tells Farming Independent.
"A lot of British citizens live here as well as some Irish and they would be familiar with Irish food products. And there are a lot of Bulgarians who were interested in Irish produce."
The main problems he faced when setting up the venture were logistical - how to get the produce to Bulgaria.
"There is a good market for Irish foods here but the continental transport system didn't run any further than Budapest," Paul explains.
Eventually he found a company willing to extend the transport link to Sofia and now the Irish product is picked up in Holland and taken directly to Bulgaria.
"The problem was chilled groupage transport from Ireland to Bulgaria, which was next to impossible to solve. I suppose that was our opportunity - no one found a way before us. Not boasting just stating a fact," Paul says.
"But if there are any transport providers operating from Ireland to Bulgaria I would be very happy to hear from them!
"And we welcome any inquiries from Irish food suppliers (dry or meat products) wishing to get into the Balkan markets to contact us via our website haylesfoods.com."
His processing plant is in northern Bulgaria where all the meats are processed, packaged and labelled, and the intention now is to have Irish mince, sausages, rashers, puddings, BBQ skewers, steaks and lamb chops on the shelves of the country's main supermarket chains on a weekly basis.
Paul is fulsome in his praise for Bord Bia and the Irish embassies in the Balkans for their help in getting his new company up and running.
"We received great help from Bord Bia in the initial stages when it was hard to get guys to actively engage with us as we were new," he says.
"Julie Clinton gave us useful contacts and we got big help from the Irish embassies in Bulgaria and Romania.
"Ambassador Michael Forbes let us use the embassy for the company launch. And Ambassador Derek Feely in Romania helped us via the commercial attaché Liviu Buzila, who was wonderful. I can't praise this guy enough."
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