‘For people starting off, better help with funding is definitely the priority’

Inside Track: Cathal Allen, co-founder and sales manager, De Roiste Foods

Cathal and Declan Allen of De Róiste Foods

Cathal and Declan Allen of De Róiste Foods

 

De Róiste Foods has been using traditional methods to produce breakfast meats in the Munster Gaeltacht since 2012.

What is special about your business?

We are a small family-run company based in the Muskerry Gaeltacht of Ballyvourney in west Cork. We make our products the way they were made long ago, with recipes handed down through generations. We source our raw materials domestically and are proud to say that all our pork and bacon comes from Irish pigs.

We would never entertain the idea of using foreign pork or importing dried blood powder. It’s not how we started and it’s not how we will finish.

What sets your business apart in your sector?

We make truly authentic products. Our black pudding is made with fresh pig’s blood, which was how it was made across Ireland in every farmhouse for decades. Our white pudding is made with a secret blend of pork stock made in-house. Finally, our Seanie’s Irish Sausage has a pork content of 85 per cent making it one of the highest pork content sausages on the market.

What are the biggest challenges your business has faced?

The increase in competition. The breakfast meats industry has become saturated in recent years. When you go into a shop now, there must be at least 20 different brands to choose from. So, you have to make your product the best it can be and hope it will be good enough to hold its own. We started with nothing during the recession and we have been fighting every day since to make a success of our business.

What has been your biggest success?

The fact that our products are available all over Ireland. You can walk into any SuperValu or Dunnes Stores and get our products. Most recently we secured a year listing with Aldi where our Ballyvourney brand pudding was chosen as one of the top five Grow with Aldi winners.

We’re also proud of the fact that we employ nine people, inlcuding two who were recruited recently.

What piece of advice would you give someone starting a business?

Make sure to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and make sure you have a good product. Also surround yourself with positive, helpful people. When we started, we pulled in aunties, uncles and cousins to help us out and that’s what got us up and running. My mother Máire, who is also involved in the business, has a big family of sisters and we had them all involved testing the products.

Who do you admire most in business and why?

Our friends Peadar and Máirín O Lionaird of Folláin Teo who make fresh fruit preserves, relishes and chutneys using natural ingredients. When we had our butcher’s shop in Ballyvourney, Peadar and Máirín used to deliver their jams and relishes to us. They started small and are now supplying the retail trade across Ireland. Growing up seeing their success and the employment they have created in our parish has been inspirational and I hope it is something we can emulate.

Do you have business hero or heroine?

The businessman and racehorse trainer JP McManus for what he has achieved in his own business, for what he has done in helping to build Ireland’s reputation for bloodstock on the international stage and for what he has given back to local communities. Also, my dad Jimmy who decided to start a business so his sons wouldn’t have to emigrate during the recession.

What could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?

For people starting off, better help with funding is definitely the priority. We found it extremely difficult to get funding during the recession and got started thanks to the generosity of Myers Machinery in Mitchelstown, who gave us the machines we needed and allowed us to pay for them later.

It would also be a big help to be given some sort of subsidy to source our raw materials in Ireland. We could easily buy our ingredients far cheaper from outside the country.

In your experience, are banks lending to SMEs?

Yes, they want to help but sometimes it isn’t as easy as it should be. We have received great support from our local AIB in Macroom.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

Being too trusting. Sometimes you want to give people the benefit of the doubt but then they take advantage of you. We had the experience a few times in the early days when we were more naive and we never got paid.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business?

Seeing the opportunities that are out there but having to hold back for fear of biting off more than you can chew. It’s not so much a frustration, more of a drawback when it’s a family business and you can never get away from it. Even the talk at the dinner table is about the business.

What makes it all worthwhile?

Seeing the business develop. At the end of the day, we are building it as a family so that’s really important no matter how much we disagree at times.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

We would never sell it. Our aim is to be the market leader and lay the foundations for something great.