Article appeared in issue 5, 2020

No ducking it


Offer customers sustainable solutions before the need arises, is the advice from Silver Hill Duck

Founded in Monaghan in 1962, Silver Hill Duck is a premium duck producer enjoying a growing audience at home and abroad. “Our distinctive hybrid duck is the secret to our success and is a breed that is exclusive to Silver Hill Duck,” explains Barry Cullen, head of sales. “We have full ownership of every aspect of the business, from breeding, egg production, hatching and selection, to processing, cooking and packaging. The company has more than doubled production in the last five years to 82,500 ducks per week.”

At 70% export-led, the company supplies 24 countries including the UK, Holland, Germany, UAE, Singapore and Hong Kong and the domestic retail market offers growth opportunities: Silver Hill is the fastest-growing product in the poultry category in Ireland and the UK. Marked success has already been achieved amongst Asian foodservice customers, too. “'Head-on duck' commands a premium price in Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, where chefs have christened Silver Hill’s duck, ‘the mother of all duck’. Currently, we export 5,000 ducks per week across more than 150 high-end restaurants in Asia.”

Environmental manager, Denise Jordan, shares the company's objectives and achievements.


When did you first begin to see sustainability as an integral part of the business?

We see ourselves as custodians of the farms we operate, so we want to leave the business in a better place than we received it for the next generation to manage. Being awarded the Origin Green Gold Standard is testament to all the work on sustainability our entire management team has put in over the past few years. Sustainable production is now part of the day job.


What processes have you introduced?

The main process we have implemented in our business is to find ways to utilise every part of the duck: feathers are used to make high-quality duvets and pillows; waste offal for the pet food industry and cooked fat is used to make biodiesel; slurry (manure) is used as fertiliser on farmland, and heads, necks, feet, tongues are sold in bulk. In 2016, construction was completed of a state-of-the-art energy-efficient office building. That same year, our maintenance team worked on a heat-recovery system to provide preheated water to the new office build and the factory. Energy dashboards are used to control our monthly KPIs which include water usage, electricity usage, oil usage and gas usage. Energy awareness days are carried out by our environmental team to educate staff on our energy requirements and how we can reduce usage.

Do you have targets and measure them?

We currently have 10 targets in our Origin Green sustainability programme and we continually measure our progress through our KPIs and Origin Green reports. Among them are:

  • Manufacturing Processes – Water

  • Maintain 15% reduction in proportionate water usage per tonne of product output achieved in 2019 until the end of 2021.

  • Manufacturing Process – Energy

  • Maintain 51% reduction in kw/tonne of finished product achieved in 2019.

  • Manufacturing Process – Waste

  • Reduce general and recyclables waste by 30% (from 2018 levels) by 2021.

  • Manufacturing Processes – Biodiversity

  • Create a wildflower area over one quarter of a hectare on site.

  • Packaging Target – Replace 100% black non-recyclable PET trays with grey recyclable by end 2021 from a baseline of 2018. All card boxes and sleeves for Aldi products to be 100% FSC and/or PEFC by end 2020.

  • Social Sustainability – Ensure we have a meaningful, positive impact on the communities we operate in. We have allocated an annual budget to support a range of local, national and international charities across sport, mental health, education and community development.


Do you see sustainability as an investment in the future of your business?

Our retail customers across Europe are always trying to reduce excess packaging, and push us to improve our processes. We endeavour to always exceed the minimum as we know that to stand still on issues like sustainability will mean we are, in effect, going backwards. The benefit of achieving these high standards for one customer group means that all others benefit from the measures taken, even though they may not be asking for them just yet. If Silver Hill continues to strive to be 'best in class' for our product category, we will certainly benefit from this investment now with more sales in the future.


Has Covid-19 increased the focus on sustainability?

For Silver Hill Duck, Covid-19 has certainly meant an increase in our base rate of sales to the retail sector, and with this comes more scrutiny on our packaging and our routes to market. As the largest supplier of duck in Ireland, we have a responsibility to ensure that our product is of the very highest quality at all times and that we can stand over our sustainability credentials.


What are the key challenges you face around the issue of sustainability?

We are unique in what we do so sometimes when we research sustainability projects, we don’t have other companies to compare ourselves to. In 2020, when we were establishing our carbon footprint we found it difficult to get direction on how to calculate the company’s carbon emissions. Hopefully, in the future, a framework will be put in place for companies to challenge and improve their own carbon footprint, much like what Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) and Origin Green have done on sustainability.


What have been your key learnings?

Origin Green and Sustainable Energy Authority Of Ireland have been our main sources of information and have been very supportive in helping companies set up targets relevant to their processes, and track the progress of these targets. Origin Green gives companies a platform to share their successes and challenges with regard to sustainability and be recognised for the work they have done. One of our key learnings was the importance of establishing your baseline through monitoring and creating relevant targets to show improvements in resource usage. Collecting data and setting targets based on this is of utmost importance.


What are your thoughts on the Irish food industry's attitude to sustainability?

The Irish food industry has a very proactive approach to sustainability and this is evidenced by the Origin Green programme. The programme is the world's only national food and drink sustainability programme and is viewed in very high regard by customers we have met all around the globe. As a farming nation, we are very aware of the impact of making sure that there is a viable business to pass on to the next generation. Farming is in our blood and the importance we place on the land and looking after it is first and foremost what we do as an industry. We have seen the effects of global warming and the potential devastation it could have across many industries here in Ireland. The benefits of Origin Green are more environmentally aware farms, an important focus on our community and a more sustainable food and drink industry.