'There's someone for nearly every part' - The multi-million euro business selling everything from beef feet to lambs' heads all over the world
It's 20 years since Paul Daly decided to put a shamrock on a box of low-cost offal destined for China and it proved to be an inspired decision.
The managing director of Irish Casing Company was looking for that extra edge to make his offering stand out above the others on the Asian market at the time.
"In the early stages one of our competitors for one of the items was a UK company and they had a Union Jack on the box," says Paul. "I knew our produce was better and met the specification but they had a brand and seemed to get more money for it than ours. I put an Irish flag on it and the shamrock that is our logo."
The move helped turn the Offaly-based company into a firm with a €70m annual turnover from casings for sausages and puddings, and a thriving business selling 'fifth quarter' meat products abroad.
"You'd go to companies and sometimes none of them would speak English but they'd ask for the box with the leaf on it or the flower," says Paul.
It meant they could command a higher price for the lower-value offal from pigs, cattle and sheep. "It was brilliant. You wouldn't realise how important the box is, You'd think it would be the product that sells it but in a lot of these places, it is the brand."
In addition to its base in Tullamore, Irish Casing, which is owned by a German family, has its own staff in 25 plants in Ireland following an agreement with the abattoirs to collect offal. It also buys offal from abattoirs in Ireland, English, Scotland, Wales, Poland, Spain, Portugal and Iceland.
This is sold on to buyers in Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Hong Kong in Asia, and in Africa they sell to Ghana, Benin and Togo, Senegal, Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, Liberia and Libya. The company, as the name suggests, began by specialising in casings but noticed that offal products were often going to waste. "We started with one item - the stomach and it went from there. We then got customers asking 'can you give us something else' like bladder belonging to pork," he says.
Very little of the animal is wasted now. "There is someone for nearly every part," he says, with beef feet, ears and lambs' heads destined for African markets as ingredients in stews.
"It is known as the fifth quarter and the factories considered it a bonus if they got money for it," he says, but now it is a key part of driving value from the carcase. "It is much more important that they get the maximum out of the product to the price paid for cattle and sheep."
The firm sells beef tongue and stomach parts and also some pork offal to Japan. "It will grow for sure," he says of the Japanese market. "You've to get the right relationship and start off slowly and get a product that has a very good specification and is very regular. Otherwise you won't make it in Japan."
He says that many of the big meat companies are also selling beef tongues under 30 month to Japan because it generally commands a higher price than in Europe. Irish beef will have to be marketed as a different grassfed-product to capture some of the market as the Japanese are used to high marbling beef, he stresses.
Ever mindful of getting the basics right, Paul says the company realised the importance of a good quality box.
"In some of these places there might not be refrigeration and when the pallet would be picked up you might have to bring it a few thousand miles without a freezer. You don't want the product disintegrating and falling apart. They might not be expensive products but they need good quality cartons."
In recent years, Irish Casing Co began working with abattoirs in Iceland after a chance meeting which led to the firm sending 15 workers there for two months to process offal. Paul has been impressed by the collaborative attitude in Iceland. For example, a problem with water that was not hot enough for processing led to the local mayor getting involved in providing a solution. Now rather than the offal being processed for the Arctic foxes, it is destined for China.
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