Pictured: Eileen and Thomas Ashe, Annascaul Black Pudding Co.
In this week’s CEO Q&A, Eileen and Thomas Ashe, owners of Annascaul Black Pudding Co, tell Business & Finance how their Local Enterprise Office has helped them achieve business goals.
Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
As the owner/manager of Annascaul Black Pudding Co my main priority is to run a successful and sustainable business on the Dingle peninsula, supplying quality Irish artisan products and providing local employment.
Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?
As a small business, you are heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. It can be difficult to allocate quality time to the strategic growth and development of the business.
Q. How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?
We don’t ask or expect our staff to do anything we don’t do ourselves. They respect the provenance and ethos of the products and take pride and ownership in what we have achieved together.
Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?
There has been a substantial increase in competition in our sector over the last six or seven years. Business costs in general are continuing to increase. We use Irish and local products where at all possible. The cost of Irish pork has risen very sharply over the past few months as a direct result of the Asian swine flu problem. This is set to continue indefinitely. Margin has been immediately impacted as a result. It won’t deter us from using only Irish pork though.
Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?
While we are a genuine artisan producer, the use of the term artisan is possibly overused by some producers and major retailers.
Food tourism is an important growth area. The food tourist is especially interested in researching and sampling local foods. Annascaul Black Pudding has been made by hand since 1916 at the same premises, and is especially important in food history and provenance.
Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?
Labeling can be misleading on some products that claim to be Irish made or use Irish ingredients. Clearer guidelines on labeling and the use of the term artisan are important to safeguard small and rural producers.
The range of supports available to small and rural business through agencies like the Local Enterprise Offices (LEO) is essential for business survival and the social fabric of local communities. As an SME it can be difficult on many levels to run a sustainable business providing employment in a peripheral rural area, but the supports that you can avail of through the LEOs are beneficial, so I’d like to see these continue.
Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?
To date we have been lucky to have a loyal, long-term staff, who have taken the ups and downs of business over the years with us.
Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?
We maintained and then grew our business throughout the banking and economic crisis despite the difficulties posed during this time and the increase in competitors within our market sector. We concentrated on quality while maintaining our prices. New products were introduced to achieve this and also to maintain employment.
Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?
We live in a tourist area and depend on seasonal influxes of people to offset the quieter shoulder periods. The 2019 summer season saw a huge decrease in the number of British visiting as a result of Brexit. This has impacted sales.
Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
Having celebrated 100 years in business in 2016, we are continuing a great Irish tradition of artisan food production that has, at its core, to be a positive and contributing force to the social and economic fabric of our locality and county.
Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?
To grow a business organically and in a sustainable manner, always looking at costs and margins – turnover for vanity, profit for sanity!
Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?
Representing Kerry at the National Enterprise Awards at The Mansion House, run by the Local Enterprise Offices, last May was a great experience for us personally and for our business. It was great recognition of the role of small business within our community and county, and resulted in very positive PR and feedback for us and all involved at Annascaul Black Pudding Co.
Q. What’s next for your company?
Product development and innovation is key to sustainability and growth within current and new targeted markets. We aim to expand our retail and wholesaler distribution network regionally and nationally also to achieve this.
Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?
Surviving and thriving!
Eileen and Thomas Ashe are ambassadors for Local Enterprise Office’s Local Enterprise Week 2020, which takes place from March 2nd-6th, with 300 events taking place nationwide across 31 LEOs. For more information see www.localenterprise.ie.