Speaking at the Alltech Global 500 conference recently the head of Kepak’s meat division, Kevin Cahill, outlined its innovations and strategy plans, in particular with regard to consumer foods.

Kepak, one of Ireland’s top meat-processing companies, has 2,000 employees, working at 10 production plants, eight in Ireland and two in the UK. It also operates a feedlot close to its head office in Clonee in Co Meath.

According to Cahill, the company is currently processing 250,000 cattle, 860,000 lambs and more recently 250,000 pigs. Cahill also outlined that it is increasingly becoming involved in consumer foods and is heavily invested in the frozen burger manufacturing business, most recently in a new site in Ballybay in Co Monaghan.

In terms of innovation, Cahill said this was key to Kepak’s success. “When we look at innovation we talk about what is the desire with the consumers and where that crosses with what is viable in the marketplace and what is possible with technology,” he said.

Market research is key to this and determines what type of products Kepak produces. According to Cahill, it analyses 55 billion consumer meals in the UK annually. This research has shown huge opportunities especially in microwave-led meals, he noted. Characteristics identified include quick, hot and tasty, key attributes within the convenience market.

Cahill went on to explain how consumer foods, such as hot snacks, have a huge number of trends in their favour. These products are popular with younger people, which is why Kepak sees this market as a huge area of potential, he said. For example, the company researched what McDonalds, Subway and Burger King have done in the quick-service restaurant sector over the past 30 years with the aim of “developing products to replicate these at retail level”.

Kepak has seen an “explosion in growth” in the food service area of the company, with retail sales at over €100m in the UK alone. Another new development outlined was its centre-plate solutions. These are slow-cooked meats products that have proven popular with consumers. Speaking about this growth, Cahill said: “We are now coming up on 500,000 packs per week being manufactured. It’s the fasted-growing part of our business. There’s been huge success in bringing this offer to the consumer.”

In terms of investment, Kepak said it has invested heavily in staff and infrastructure, employing different skillsets than previously including chefs, butchers and marketers. Also in addition, it has a new innovation centre in Cork and an established centre in Dublin.

In conclusion Cahill reminded the audience that bringing innovation to time-poor consumers was about “understanding their needs, delivering real innovation and investing in people our process and product”.

By Ciaran Moran