By SAM BUTLER
Hellbent, the Belfast-based developer of meat products crafted from Northern Irish beef with South African spices, has won its first business in England following a deal with a luxury food retailer in London.
The artisan enterprise, formed by former Ulster rugby stars Louis Ludik and Schalk van der Merwe, has begun supplying its award-winning Boerewors coiled beef sausages, burgers and meat balls to Planet Plenty Food and Wine, a luxury food and drink retailer with outlets and takeaway services in Fulham and Wandsworth.
The London break follows the small company’s success in winning business with Aldi supermarkets in Scotland in a deal assisted by business development agency Invest Northern Ireland.
The new London business for the producer is the latest breakthrough by a local meat enterprise in a marketplace also supplied by industry leaders here such as Dunbia and Linden Foods, both headquartered in Dungannon.
The new business for Hellbent, according to Louis Ludik, is a direct result of the company’s participation in the big Speciality and Fine Food Fair for artisan enterprises at London’s Olympia exhibition centre earlier in the month.
“We had our own stand at the fair, now one of the most important in Britain due to the large number of food and drink buyers it attracts every year,” Louis says.
“Planet Plenty buyers were among the many retail and foodservice representatives visiting our stand during the show’s two days.
“We were thoroughly impressed and encouraged by the interest shown in our fresh products in particular, such as our Boerewors sausages, burgers and meat balls, as well as our prepared Northern Irish pork dishes,” he continues.
Both Louis and Schalk are South Africans who came here to play rugby for Ulster and subsequently decided to stay, launching an innovative business which they describe as “a taste collision between local beef and South African flavours”.
While Louis retired from Ulster rugby earlier in the year, Schalk continues to coach and turn out for Lurgan Rugby Club in County Armagh.
They set up Hellbent in March 2018 to develop a range of South African-styled beef and pork products. The company sources its meats from Corries farm and retail business near Newtownards in County Down.
Hellbent has been growing sales steadily and has also achieved success in the Republic with Aldi Ireland.
Retail clients in Northern Ireland include Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Eurospar supermarkets.
The food company’s success in London came as two major local meat processors were acclaimed at a major industry showcase.
Dunbia in Dungannon, Northern Ireland’s biggest and most successful meat producer, was named Manufacturer of the Year in the annual Meat Management and Industry Awards.
Dunbia, which began life as a family butchery in Moy owned by brothers Jim and Jack Dobson in 1976, also won the ‘Britain’s Best Burger’ title for burgers provided to Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the UK.
Britain’s Best Meat Pie award went to Marks & Spencer Large Beef Wellington, which was developed in association with Linden Foods, also based in the Tyrone town.
While both Dunbia and Linden are located in County Tyrone, they now operate throughout the UK and further afield.
Dunbia is now owned by Ireland’s Dawn Meats and Linden is part of the Republic’s globally focused APB Group.
The two award-winning companies – along with the emerging Hellbent – are part of Northern Ireland’s strategically important meat processing sector, the biggest in our £5 billion food industry which exports to over 60 global markets, including China.
Around 50 per cent of local meat products – upwards of £2 billion – are sold annually to major retailers and foodservice operations in Great Britain, including most of the main supermarkets there, reflecting the importance of the market in Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The successes of Dunbia and Linden were among the top awards at a gala presentation for the UK meat industry at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole.
Football icon Kevin Keegan presented manufacturers, supermarkets, industry suppliers, trade organisations, catering butchers and independent retailers with their winning trophies.
The influential awards are a celebration of the creativity, innovation and excellence of the UK’s meat industry. The award winners were determined through reader votes and product entries, along with a select judging panel for product evaluation.
A total of 20 accolades were handed out to companies, associations and personalities that struck a chord with readers and judges.
Graham Yandell, publisher of Meat Management magazine, which runs the influential awards, said: “It has been fantastic to bring the industry back together again for these prestigious awards and I know it has been a very special evening for so many of our guests as we all try our best to get back to something like normal.”