Inside Track: Thomas Ashe, Annascaul Black Pudding Company
The business was started in 1916 by a granduncle and now supplies more than 70 outlets
Elaine and Thomas Ashe from Annascaul Black Pudding Company. ‘We are growing our business through more product development and heading more towards a suite of products.’ Photograph: Martina Regan
Thomas Ashe is the owner and manager of Annascaul Black Pudding Company, a tradition passed down through his family. “The business was started in 1916 by my granduncle who came back from America. He started a shop and meat production business. Since then, black pudding has been made here. My parents ran it and I have run it since the early 1990s. We produce black pudding, white pudding, sausages, rashers, all handmade.”
What distinguishes your business from that of your competitors?
Our black pudding is handmade to a 104-year-old recipe, in the same premises for all the time, always using local ingredients and especially fresh blood. It’s fresh-blood pudding. All our other products are handmade with quality local Irish ingredients, especially our sausages in which we always use belly pork as our main ingredients.
What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to face?
The biggest thing, I suppose is the substantial increase in competition, especially in the last six or seven years. And also the cost of doing business in general is increasing.
The biggest challenge, very recently, is African Swine Fever, which has spread to Asia. That is really affecting the price of pork in Ireland at the moment – it’s gone up twice in the last six months. They’ve had to cull millions of pigs [in Asia] so they are buying up all the pork around the world and it’s affecting prices.
What’s been your major success to date?
Growing the business from only retailing in our shop initially. Now we supply over 70 other outlets. We are in Supervalu, Tesco, Dunnes and a host of other outlets, restaurants and hotels across Kerry. A big thing that it’s providing is employment in our local community, which is rural, in west Kerry.
A big achievement last year was representing Kerry in the National Enterprise Awards in the Mansion House in Dublin last May. It was great recognition, after all the years, to get something out of it.
What more do you think that the Government could do to help SMEs?
Central Government could definitely give more support to small rural business. The likes of this business here, we employ seven people and that’s a lot for a small little area. It’s hugely important for the social fabric of our community. We need more job creation down here, especially in peripheral areas. Everything is Dublin centric at the moment.
Do you think the banks are open for business?
We’ve always had a great relationship with the AIB in Dingle and we’ve always found them very helpful and forthcoming.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Initially trying to do everything myself, trying to be all things to the business. When I look back at the early stages of my time with the business, it was very hard to get or afford the necessary help or expertise.
Whom do you admire and in business and why?
I don’t have to look very far – our neighbour Tomas Garvey from Dingle of the Garvey Supervalu and hotel company. He started off with just a tiny grocery store in Dingle and has built a hugely successful business, supplying hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And he is always giving freely back to the community and has never changed despite all his success. He’s a lovely man.
What is the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?
Keep your business as lean as possible, watch your margins and costs, and grow organically and sustainably. I always remember the phrase “turnover is for vanity and profits for sanity”, I always keep that in mind.
How do you see the short-term future of your business?
We are positive. We are growing our business through more product development and heading more towards a suite of products. We are in a tourist area here so we’ve had the effect of Brexit: our visitor numbers were down last year, unfortunately, but hopefully now that there is some kind of an agreement that may have passed.
What’s your business worth? And would you sell it?
It’s actually very, very hard to quantify the value of the business. It’s not on the radar right now but, in time, who knows if the right offer came along.