Keogh’s Crisps: how a business born out of one crisis is adapting to another
Tom Keogh, founder and managing director of Keogh’s Crisps, talks about the ups and down of the potato business and the fundraising initiative he’s launched to support healthcare workers
Left to right: Derek, Peter, Tom and Ross Keogh, of Keogh's Crisps. Photograph: Philip Doyle
We are a family business that has been farming in North County Dublin for over 200 years, growing our own ingredients or sourcing them locally. Recognised as an essential food service, Keogh’s Crisps and our fresh potato business have continued to operate throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
Many of my family members, including my wife, work as nurses. We are very aware of the risks and challenges people are facing on a day-to-day basis. Back in March, after seeing those first images coming from Italian hospitals, we were concerned about the impact on our own healthcare system. There is a huge amount of goodwill towards healthcare workers and we decided we wanted to help.
It started with small things, food drops around hospitals, but we wanted to do something bigger and with no obvious charity supporting frontline healthcare workers, we decided to set up our own fund-raising initiative, Ireland Thanks You. We guarantee that 100 per cent of each donation goes directly to healthcare workers in the form of a €100 voucher – so far, we have raised €68,000.
Fast change to the new normal
From a business perspective, we took the threat very seriously from the outset. Things we thought would be hard to implement and couldn’t make work, were quickly up and running because they had to be.
What seemed unusual one day was normal the next: social distancing; facemasks; Perspex screens in the factory; employees having their temperatures checked twice a day; two shifts with no crossover of personnel. It’s our responsibility to make sure we protect our people the best we can – 80 in Keogh’s Crisps and 36 in the potato business.
One of the biggest challenges was moving our office staff to remote working arrangements. We weren’t prepared for people working from home and have had to get up to speed with the technology, buying laptops and organising virtual private network (VPN) connections. Video conferencing has been a success and will definitely be part of our business going forward.
A business born in adversity
Keogh’s Crisps was launched in the last recession, at the end of 2011. It was a very difficult time in Ireland, but we needed to start the snack business because of a 50 per cent decline in fresh potato sales between 2002 and 2012. As far as I am aware, we are the only firm in the world to have actually taken a potato brand and turned it into a crisp brand.
As it transpired, we had the right product at the right time; there was huge support for indigenous startups and because of the recession people were spending more time at home buying snacks instead of eating out.
Going high-end, with flavours that use authentic Irish ingredients, was always the gap we were going after. We don’t make a seasoning to taste like something; we actually use the real ingredient as the base flavour, which is a unique approach. We decided to be the ‘uber crisp’ so as not to compete directly with established competitors.
Launching at the dawn of social media also helped. Our ability to tell our genuine ‘crop to crisp’ story directly to consumers was very powerful. Keogh’s Crisps now account for nearly 10 per cent of the total Irish crisp market and exports to 20 countries, including the USA which recently overtook the United Arab Emirate as the number two market. Not bad for a North County Dublin farming business.
Donate over €25 and you’ll get a free ‘Not all Superheroes wear capes’ T-shirt, cost and postage covered by Keogh’s.
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