John Walshe

Bacon and pork processing company Callan Bacon, which was established in 1924, is a fourth generation family business


Callan Bacon is a Kilkenny-based bacon and pork processing company. Established in 1924, the company is a fourth-generation family business.

John Walshe became the managing director of Callan Bacon in 1985, when the business was purchased by his parent’s company, M&M Walsh. At the time the company had a turnover of £800,000 and a dozen employees.

Since then the company has expanded rapidly and now employs over 200 people with a turnover of €56 million.

It has a presence in Ireland, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Its main customers include Aldi, Lidl, Iceland Frozen Foods, Dunnes Stores and Tesco.

In the past three years it has won 12 awards including those from Blas na hÉireann, The Grocer and Great Taste.

The company completed a 36,000 ft expansion in 2010 and in November 2011, Walshe purchased cooked pork specialist Ribworld in Clonmel.

Since taking it over, Ribworld has seen great success growing by more than 50 per cent, with employee numbers increasing from 35 to 76.

How did you secure your first investment?
When I purchased Callan in 1985, it was a very small business with hardly any funds. The plant was not suitable for a food factory.

Enterprise Ireland and Feoga gave us funding and we also raised finance from Bank of Ireland to purchase a five-acre site just outside Callan in 1988. We completed the construction of a 20,000 sq ft factory in April 1990.

Our total expenditure was £2.3 million, which was a very large investment back then.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
1999 was our worst year in business. We lost a major customer and were left very exposed. A contract we had in the UK also turned out to be a substantial loss maker. That year we recorded a loss of €750,000, which was our biggest loss in the history of the company.

We came out fighting for every bit of business available and ensured we never left ourselves in a situation where we depended on one customer again.

What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
The day we decided to stop dissembling pigs and only do things which added value for our customer. We stopped slaughtering pigs when we purchased the company and paid someone else to do it for us. However, we found buying the entire pig took up a lot of our processing capacity and we didn’t need the entire pig always as there wasn’t year-round sales for all the various pieces.

So we decided to just buy in individual pieces, as we needed them on days we wanted them.

What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Give value to the customer and build their trust. At all times know your three important figures – margin, wages and overheads. Invest in your team – they are your future.

I always look for driven people who are generally over-qualified for the job as they have the potential to grow the job and hence the company.

What are the biggest challenges you face now?
The competition for contracts with multiples has increased in the last five years.

The downturn in the economy has added to that pressure as people are consistently looking for value and low prices. At the same time, energy costs, rates and transport costs are all increasing.