Kepak is a thriving international food business, with a philosophy of listening to its customers
Article appeared in issue 5, 2022
It began as a small, family-owned butcher shop, founded by Noel Keating, on Francis Street in Dublin in 1966. Since that time, Kepak has grown into an international food business, selling meat to both retailers and food service operators, across the globe.
Much of this is down to Noel Keating’s drive to succeed. The son of a butcher from Co. Clare, he left school at the age of 15 to learn the trade and served an apprenticeship in Limerick, before moving to Dublin, where he worked in the Anderson Butcher’s shop in Glasnevin and later FX Buckley’s on Chatham Street.
Noel opened his own butcher shop in Francis Street in Dublin in 1966, two years after marrying his wife, Marie O’Byrne. Not content with owning his own premises, however, he later acquired a small abattoir on Ossory Road in Dublin and a second butcher shop. Then in 1975, Noel and Marie purchased a farm in Clonee, Co. Meath. Here, they designed and constructed a beef abattoir and boning hall, which would become the Kepak Group.
Growth of the Business
That very business now employs 4,500 people, across 13 manufacturing sites in Ireland and the UK. While it’s headquartered in Ireland at the Clonee head office, which is known for its thatched roof, the company has sales offices in the UK, the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
What’s more, Kepak products are sold in 43 countries around the globe. It works with over 28,000 farms and farming families. Annually, Kepak now processes about 500,000 cattle, 1.7 million lambs, and 350,000 pigs. It markets about 20,000 tonnes of burgers, 24 million slow-cooked packs of meat and 150 million consumer meat snacks, under its Rustler brand. Its AgraKepak arm of the business, which trades beef by-products, deals in some 65,000 tonnes of beef, pork, lamb, and fish proteins.
In April 1993, Noel Keating passed away, leaving a young family behind him. A non-family executive team was appointed to carry on his legacy. His philosophy of putting customer needs first continues to this day, and this has been key to Kepak’s success.
Understanding the Consumer
“By truly understanding our consumers, we can deliver on their needs,” says Simon Walker, CEO of Kepak. “A key success factor that has fuelled our growth is that we’ve learned our craft from the ground up.”
In addition, the company has continued to invest in research over the years. “Our focus on insight and innovation is a key differentiator,” says Simon. “We continuously invest in consumer research to keep ahead of market trends and deliver insight-led innovation to our customers.”
This allows Kepak to stay ahead of trends and has been a key advantage in dealing with the non-meat-eating trend of recent years. “At Kepak, we know the world of food is always evolving, and that staying ahead of the latest trends is paramount to keeping consumers engaged. Food brands and businesses need to think and act differently to meet the emerging demands and expectations within the meat and non-meat categories.”
Within its regular meat category, the company is currently marketing a range of its products as convenience foods which are high in nutrition. “Our recently launched ready-to-cook range delivers nutritious meat-based meals in a contemporary format. It capitalises on the ongoing need for convenience,” explains Simon.
In the non-meat category, it has also tapped into the growth of convenient meal solutions, via the launch of its Rustlers Meatless Maverick. This is aimed at those who don’t eat meat or who want to reduce the amount of meat they eat on average. “Meatless Maverick provides an easy swap for non-meat eaters, while behaviourally fitting their existing habits, therefore requiring less of a conscious shift,” says Simon. “Put simply, as a brand with significant equity around tasty meat-based products, we have strong consumer credibility to meaningfully mimic the taste of meat.
“The strength of our branded portfolio sets us apart,” he adds. “And in a rapidly evolving food market, we’re committed to leading on innovation and sustainability.”
Sustainability at Kepak is taken very seriously. “It’s part of everything we do and a way of doing our job every day,” says Simon. “Throughout our history, we’ve found innovative ways to feed people responsibly, and we’re on a journey to find new ways to do so in the future.
“The world today is more complex than ever, and we’re committed to helping to build a sustainable food system that supports our farmers, suppliers, customers, people, and the planet.”
In this capacity, Kepak is proud to be a founding member of the Bord Bia sustainability programme, Origin Green. Its sustainability strategy, Kepak CORE, is focused on agriculture, responsible sourcing, resource efficiency, health and nutrition, and people and communities.
“In collaboration with Tirlán (formerly Glanbia Ireland), we’ve developed the Twenty20 Beef Club,” says Simon. “This club represents our clear vision for the future of more economically and environmentally sustainable beef.”
In addition to gains in production efficiency, the initiative offers greater financial stability for farmers and enhanced traceability for consumers. “Early analysis indicates that the programme brings GHG emission reductions in the region of 20%, compared to the national average, and so has been highly successful so far.
“We are acutely aware of our obligations to our staff, the communities with which we work, and the environment,” adds Simon. “In actively supporting sustainable food farming programmes, we’re demonstrating in many practical ways that Kepak is ’More Than Meat’.”