Dispatches: ISM/ProSweets 2015

Keogh’s MD: We won’t take our eye off quality like most luxury crisp makers

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Keogh's MD: 'Up until now, the quality was really done by family members around the kitchen table at lunchtime'
Keogh's MD: 'Up until now, the quality was really done by family members around the kitchen table at lunchtime'

Related tags: Management

Irish premium chip maker Keogh’s has invested heavily in quality control as business booms, but while exports are set to increase the MD wants to remain 'small'.

The family-owned chip company and potato farm has experienced 50% year-on-year (YoY) growth over the last two years and expanded into a number of countries, including the UK, Germany, China, Australia and the US. The company produces around 1.5 tons of chips per day, which equates to around 10,000 bags.

“Because the business is in growth, and in such growth, the key thing for us is just focusing on maintaining quality,”​ said Tom Keogh, managing director of Keogh’s.

“What has happened with most of the luxury crisp producers in nearly all markets is as they grew, they completely took their eye off quality,”​ he told BakeryandSnacks.com at ISM/ProSweets 2015 in Cologne last week.

However, Keogh’s for example, had invested €20,000 ($22,600) in moisture testing equipment and formed a team dedicated to maintaining product quality from potato to chip.

“Up until now, the quality was really done by family members around the kitchen table at lunchtime, whereas now we have a dedicated quality team. They’re testing every aspect of the product which for a company of our size is unusual – normally companies wouldn’t have that.”

Better quality control was particularly important, he said, as Keogh's made hand-cooked chips. "It’s about taking that batch of hand-cooked product, which has huge variables in it, and trying to maintain a level of continuity at the end, which is difficult." 

‘We’re not interested in hefty UK expansion’

Keogh's_close

Exports for Keogh’s currently stand at 20% but the plan is to double that within 18 months.

The immediate focus this year, Keogh said, was on Germany where the company had secured a distribution deal and retail listings, as well as China, where it had shipped its first crate to earlier this month.

However, he said there was no intention to export in mass. “When you look at these markets, we’re not looking to do big volumes, just dig out some premium customers and deal with them – that’s enough for us. I have no aspirations to become a huge, big player – that’s not us.” 

Similarly, he said Keogh’s would not be aggressively targeting the UK market – a country it first expanded into two years ago.

Keogh's_product_farmers

“We’re doing a little bit with the specialty sector in the UK but I’m not really interested in growing the business too quickly in the UK because the market is saturated over there with luxury crisps.”

However, he said the hope was that exports would ultimately overtake domestic business, in part, so Keogh’s didn’t monopolize the Irish premium chip market.

“I want to remain a small, premium player [in Ireland]… It’s a family business and I’m happy enough to keep it at that. I don’t want the pressure of 200 employees. We really enjoy what we do, and the day we stop enjoying it, is the day we took a wrong turn,”​ Keogh said.

Related topics: Snacks, Manufacturers, Diversification

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