Future Proof: Mervue Laboratories chases market gaps

Nutraceutical firm caters for the camel, equine, canine and feline markets, achieving particular success in the Middle East and Gulf

What do camels eat? Unexpectedly enough, an Irish company has the answer. Among the products made by Cork-based Mervue Laboratories, a company that recently announced a €2 million expansion, is indeed camel feed.

Mervue, which exports to more than 50 countries worldwide, is the nutritional products division of parent company Inform Nutrition Ireland, established by Martin Beirne and Denis Twomey in 1986.

The company manufactures more than 400 different formulations for the camel, equine, canine and feline markets. It has achieved particular success in the Middle East and the Gulf, where it sells its own nutrition products for the huge camel-racing industry there.

Mervue has facilities in Bulgaria and the Netherlands, and it will open a sales office in the US next year.


With plans to take on an additional 25 employees in Ireland to bring its workforce up to 75 staff members, and a further €2million investment in place for early 2017, the nutraceutical company is clearly going places.

However, as Beirne admits, while Mervue has enjoyed plenty of success in recent years, getting things off the ground was no easy business.

“It was very difficult to get started because, back in 1986, the economy was in bad shape and we had little or no money when we set out. We had some good ideas for products and could see there were gaps in the market for animal nutrition supplies and so felt we had to give it a go,” he said.

Beirne, whose family hails from Roscommon but who grew up in England before moving back here in the 1980s, studied agricultural biochemistry and nutrition before entering the workforce.

He ended up in Cork after being asked to relocate there by the company he was working with at that time. The man who was to be his business partner was formerly his customer.

“Denis and I worked flat out when we started because we could only afford to take on one employee, so that meant we had to do a lot of the hard graft ourselves. I would go out and sell the products by day and then come back to the factory, and myself and Dennis would stay up late working.

“We’d often sleep on the floor in the office next to the printer because we couldn’t print the labels until after the production run would finish and the machine wasn’t very good, so we’d be there to kick it back into action when it went on the blink,” he said. After initial success locally selling into the west Cork co-ops and Southern Milling, the company looked overseas for business.

"The UK was an obvious market for us, but proved difficult because the agriculture market there is quite traditional and wary of trying new things. But thanks to some hard work and assistance from the likes of Enterprise Ireland, we were able to make inroads there. We also grew the business in places like Germany and Holland by attending trade shows," said Beirne.

“Being Irish helped significantly in entering new markets because we have a great reputation abroad, particularly when it comes to agribusiness. We’re known for the quality of our products, be it milk, beef and so on, and the fact that we’re perceived as being ‘clean and green’ has also assisted us.”

While the company focused initially on winning business in Europe, it also branched out into the Middle East and Gulf states, where it has achieved enormous success, not just in the camel-racing sector but also in other areas.

“We got the idea to try out making products fit for camels when we were approached and asked why we were concentrating on producing food for 4,000 horses out there when there were 120,000 racing camels. That got us thinking!” said Beirne.

While many Irish businesses suffered during the recession, the fact Mervue was in so many markets helped it survive unscathed. In some respects, the recession helped the firm.

“We were greatly disadvantaged during the Celtic Tiger years because we couldn’t get anyone to work in our factory because we couldn’t compete with the construction industry in terms of wages,” he said.

Research and development has been a key factor in ensuring the company’s success and Beirne says it is at the heart of everything Mervue does.

“It saddens me when I see how little other companies spend on R&D because it is essential to keep innovating. We would always have a pipeline of maybe 12 projects that we’re working on and maybe only three or four of them might turn into actual products, but that’s enough,” he said.

The company has just completed trials for a poultry-related product at an R&D facility in Georgia in the US. These are now going to be extended over six to eight months with a view to introducing the products into the market there.

“We’re in the process of registering in China now which is exciting because while you can get everything cheap, there’s actually a real thirst for quality products such as the ones we’re producing.

“Between that and growing our business in the US over the next while, I’d say we’ll be busy enough. The results from the US trials are very encouraging so far and I can see us doing well there in the coming years,” Beirne said.