Deemed the perfect Peking duck by chef Heston Blumenthal, Silver Hill Duck is a clear leader in its category. Irishfood caught up with sales and marketing manager, Greg Devlin, about the brand’s stellar trajectory
Founded in Monaghan in 1962, Silver Hill Duck began operations with just six ducks. Fast forward to 2023, the company has six breeding sites, and one production base, generating 82,500 ducks per week. On top of that, it employs 240 people and is present in 30 international markets. Silver Hill Duck prides itself on being a fully integrated premium duck producer, which means that all aspects of duck production are owned and controlled by the company, from breeding, egg production, hatching and selection, to processing, cooking and packaging.
A hybrid duck, exclusive to Silver Hill Duck, is the secret to the company’s success. Fed on a natural diet of wheat, maize and soya, it has been continually developed over the years to produce a succulent, tender and flavoursome duck, with a crispy skin.
The ‘mother of all duck’
At 70 per cent export-led, the company has achieved tremendous growth in recent years, supplying to 30 countries worldwide, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), UK, Holland, Germany, France, Singapore and Hong Kong. Silver Hill Duck supplies leading Chinese and Asian restaurants in major cities around the world, with chefs calling it the ‘mother of all duck’ or the ‘Wagyu of duck’. This led to an appearance in Heston Blumenthal’s television programme, In Search of Perfection, when the celebrity chef travelled the world for the perfect Peking duck, eventually deciding on the Silver Hill duck.
This success has generated additional sales enquiries from Malaysia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia and to keep up with growing demand, the company is currently seeking to increase its capacity to 120,000 ducks a week in the form of a new production plant at their current base in Emyvale, Co. Monaghan. It has also recently purchased three additional breeding farms to keep pace with demand from existing and new markets.
Silver Hill Duck launched in the Middle East two years ago, securing a partnership with a distributor for the UAE, Fresh Express. “As a premium niche product, we are very careful when choosing a distributor that also operates in the premium space,” explains Greg. “We target only the top 10 per cent of every foodservice market and are not interested in mass volume and saturating the market to keep with the brand image.”
The potential of the Middle East is significant, he says, and where the company is focussing future growth efforts. “The market attracts affluent diners and chefs experienced working with high quality, premium ingredients. As we already supply many five-star hotels and restaurant chains across Europe, when these groups began setting outlets up in the Middle East, enquiries from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh soon followed.”
A premium product
One such example is the world-renowned Mr Chow Chinese restaurant, which serves authentic Beijing cuisine and the iconic Peking duck. “Silver Hill Duck supplies Mr Chow in London and when setting up their outlet in Riyadh’s prestigious King Abdullah Financial District, they insisted on Silver Hill Duck only, even delaying the opening until supply arrived. As well as that, a large number of skilled chefs who had recently moved to the region previously worked and trained in the UK and were very familiar with the product and the unique roasting qualities of the Silver Hill Duck that competitors could not replicate.”
Exporting to the region presented unique challenges. “As an export-led company, Silver Hill Duck is accustomed to adjusting to cultural and religious norms. To export to the UAE, it was necessary to get the recognised halal certification in place. This involved significant investment in altering our plant and processes to cater for this and a successful audit paved the way for exports to commence. Another significant challenge was the outbreak of bird flu in Ireland in 2022. We had made great inroads since our launch in the market but an outbreak of avian influenza in a nearby turkey farm had a significant impact in the progress being made. Due to the strict conditions of the agreed veterinary health certificate between Ireland and the UAE, any outbreak of avian influenza within a particular radius means a restriction in exporting is put in place for three months. This caused a disruption to supply and subsequently customers ran out of stock for a period of time until the ban was lifted. To counteract the risk of avian influenza outbreaks and market restrictions, Silver Hill Duck now works closely with our partners in the market to ensure there is enough contingency stock to allow for such potential disruptions.”
The company supplies whole duck, duck breast fillets, confit duck legs and duck fat into high-end foodservice and has secured a number of high-profile customers in a relatively short period, including the Atmosphere Restaurant, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai; Mr Chow in Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. “Being on the menu in renowned restaurant Shanghai Me in the heart of Doha, just in time for the World Cup in Qatar was a highlight,” says Greg. “We are also talking to retailers about our award-winning retail range with a view to listing in the near future.”
What company and product attributes appeal most to the middle eastern customer? “As an affluent market, quality of product is of the utmost importance and, in particular, consistent quality. Quality is the cornerstone of our business and is something we don’t compromise on at any stage of the supply chain, be it at farm or production.
“Bringing the product to customers and diners in the most sustainable way possible is becoming of increasing importance. Silver Hill Duck is a founding member and a Gold member of Bord Bia’s Origin Green Scheme. Our customers want Peking duck that is produced sustainably, and the Origin Green stamp authenticates the great efforts at Silver Hill to consistently do just that. Our sustainability agenda is a cross-functional effort and we have successfully surpassed all sustainability target set.”
In-market activations are keeping the brand front and centre and this is the company’s third year attending the Gulfood exhibition. “We also attended Saudi Horeca in Riyadh to sample the Silver Hill Duck with Saudi Arabia customers for the first time which was met with an excellent reception.” The company will continue to work with recognised chefs, and host events in key customer restaurants to provide the ‘Silver Hill Experience’, a tasting menu and education on the product.
What supports have proved helpful in exporting to the region?
Greg says: “We availed of the Bord Bia Marketing Fellowship Programme. This has been instrumental in Silver Hill Duck’s sales and brand awareness in the region. The fellowship allows businesses to connect with future sales talent of the food and drink industry who deliver a wide range of strategic business development and marketing tasks for Silver Hill across an 18-month programme. This is invaluable ‘feet on the ground’ in the market, representing Silver Hill Duck, developing a market overview, competitor analysis, distributor profiling, sales lead generation, trade show attendance and working with existing distributors. The fellows are highly skilled and participation in this programme has been very beneficial for the company.
“Another key support was the Post-Brexit Market Growth and Diversification Grant in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia. This was designed to help Irish companies impacted by Brexit to explore international growth opportunities in new markets outside the UK. This grant fast-tracked our strategic market development programme for the Middle East region and helped Silver Hill Duck develop a strategy to enter and grow new markets at launch phase.”