This article was originally published in fft.ie by Caroline Egan.
With a 45 year history in Dublin, Kerrigan’s Craft Butchers is a leader in the traditional, legacy business of butchery. Having transformed the appeal of ‘the butchers’ by becoming more conscious of time-poor families and protein-rich food as a tool for fitness, the business is growing at a rapid pace across 32 counties. We caught up with managing director, Barry Kerrigan, to hear more about the impact of vegetarianism and veganism on the trade, changing markets and what they have to offer consumers.
“Butchery has been in my DNA from birth – my father is a butcher so my brother and I always knew we’d follow that path,” said Barry, who left school after completing the Junior Cert to train as an butcher apprentice under his brother, Shane.
As a family run business the brothers’ strengths complement each other – Barry leans more toward product development, technology and branding side of the business, whilst Shane is strong on the financial side, regulation and customer experience.
Recently awarded the Craft Butchers of the Year award most certainly has given the business a boost. “Being recognised nationally and amongst our peers has been a goal of ours for several years,” said Barry. The award also has a very emotional response: the business had come very close on a few occasions to winning the award, and overall the team has found the experience extremely motivational.
Customer driven changes have resulted in significant upheaval of late in the industry, with people looking for more information regarding the nutrition and provenance of their food, as well as quick, tasty, healthy options. The industry has also become more regulated and according to Barry, “It’s clear to see that only the butchers who adapt to these circumstances will survive”.
Kerrigans has always had a broad customer demographic, but fundamentally the main concerns are convenience, health, quality and affordability – and this is what the business has adapted its product range to suit. “We have two core targets – the family and the fitness-focused,” said Barry. With that in mind, new products are developed and marketed specifically for those demographics.
Kerrigans takes the viewpoint of meat as part of a healthy lifestyle very seriously when promoting products. “We don’t believe that eating meat is vital to humans,” Barry explained, “But we do believe it is an integral part of a healthy, balanced, varied diet.”
The business uses in-store marketing, email marketing, events, and a handful of social influencers, known as Kerrigan’s Ambassadors, to communicate offerings and recipes online to their target audiences. In fact, Barry believes, “The impact of social media as a whole has been integral since we introduced e-commerce”.
“Despite being a butcher, I’m comfortable with conflicting views on vegetarianism and veganism,” said Barry. “For the last 26 years my livelihood has relied on the sale of meat and this may suggest I’m biased towards eating meat but I’m also realistic and open-minded.”
Barry continued: “Although veganism is growing and conversation is building, vegans currently only make up 3-5% of the population.” Kerrigans can therefore focus on the 95% of people who enjoy a balanced diet inclusive of good quality meat.
However, he admits that they will look at adapting to cater for the meat-free diet: “Meat-eating families are exploring and experimenting with meat-free alternatives maybe once or max twice a week, so we are looking at developing a meat-free option”.
The most successful products, or as Barry calls them ‘core dinner items’, include chicken breasts, turkey and beef mince and steak but consumers increasingly want to experiment with new cuts and flavours, so following and watching trends in meat cooking is crucial for the business. One new product is West Cork wagyu beef and has already become one of the most popular. With that in mind, Barry ensures that the website and social channels are points of inspiration for the consumer helping them with recipe ideas and preparation tips.
“Our fitness-focused business was born out of our desire to support those on a health journey achieve their goals,” he explained. “I was at the beginning of a new fitness journey myself and soon realised that meal prepping and eating well while eating enough can be tricky to get right – particularly if you’re new to fitness or don’t have much free time.”
With that in mind, Foods for Fitness removes the guess work for consumers and makes it easier for them to fit healthy living into their schedule. Products in this range use the leanest cuts possible and have the calories counted already for the customers.
The business even has a Fake Out range to keep people out of the chipper, with offerings such as their spice bag which contains sliced chicken fillets, bell peppers, sliced onions and sweet potato fries in an exclusive spice mix all for just 515 calories per portion. Partnered with a variety of fitness experts that also give training advice, motivation and meal inspiration, Kerrigans is now delivering to 32 counties across the island, proving that the marketing aspect of the business is crucial to its current success.
Butchers have undergone a vast array of changes since the crash, with the introduction of cheap and cheerful offers, and products prepared off-site. However, Barry does not feel that the quality of meat has declined in the meat industry – in fact, he said it has improved in recent years. “The produce we sell today is the best produce we can source in Ireland,” he said.
“We work with the most passionate suppliers, who provide animals that have been reared just as nature intended, which delivers the best quality meat.”
Kerrigan's has continued to adapt to the ever changing market in Ireland by clearly identifying key trends and honing in on them with quality products and clever marketing that leverages social media in an effective manner. It’s a lesson in adapting not to survive, but to thrive instead.