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Oepsie … Louis and Schalk bring South African flavours to Irish pork belly

Louis Ludik and business partner Schalk van der Merwe are hoping two novel pork products will prove just as successful as the boerewors South African beef sausages, burgers and meat balls launched more than a year ago under their quirky Hellbent brand.

The new Irish pork products – already listed by Tesco Northern Ireland for seven stores in the greater Belfast area – are based on another product, Oepsie, a meat snack from their South African homeland.

What the top rugby players – Louis, 33, is in the Ulster squad and Schalk, 30, also played at the Kingspan Stadium before joining Lurgan as a player and coach – have done successfully is to reshape the popular South African BBQ snack into fully fledged meals. The dishes are Cherry Balsamic Pork Belly and Apricot and Mustard Pork Belly.

“We started our journey of delicious culture collisions by shaping Irish beef into boerewors.

“Now we’re taking Irish pork belly and giving it some serious South African welly with our balsamic and cherry ‘Oepsie’ inspired sauce and our honey and apricot glaze,” Louis says.

“Oepsie meat snacks are traditionally grilled on a South African braai, an outdoor barbecue, for families and social gatherings, as a starter while the main meat cooks,” he explains.

“We decided to develop the glazing and sauce into a main dish that’s better suited to the Northern Ireland climate and its limited opportunities for grilling outdoors,” adds Louis.

“We developed the new products with autumn and winter in mind. They can be cooked in the oven as well as the grill and can be enjoyed with sticky rice, in a bun or in a sandwich.

“They are hearty, wholesome and very versatile dishes for the cold and snowy season here,” he adds.

Louis, a marketer from Johannesburg, and Schalk, who hails from a farming background at Tzaneen in South Africa’s fertile agri-food region of Limpopo, created the distinctive recipes from cherry balsamic and apricot and mustard glazes for the new pork belly products.

“They are based on family recipes used for the Oepsie snacks.

“Most families back in South Africa have their own recipes for the glazes and sauces for the braai.

“The glaze we are using, for instance, is based on a recipe from my wife Chame’s family.
“We teamed up with pork processor Connolly’s Meats in Monaghan to produce and package these products for us,” Louis continues.

“The product development started before Covid-19 and presented a lot of challenges.

“This meant we could not really be in the factory and had to pause development during the lockdown.

“We had to be really conscious in developing the product safely while trying to stick to our original timeline for launch,” he explains.

The Tesco order is the outcome of discussions between the retailer’s buying team and Hellbent and is the small food producer’s first business with the leading UK supermarket.

Hellbent has previously been successful with Aldi Ireland for its South African boerewors beef sausages, a recent Great Taste Award winner, and with the sausages, burgers and meat balls with the Henderson Group’s Eurospar supermarkets in Northern Ireland as well as a string of delis.

The rugby entrepreneurs set up the small business as a career option for when the final whistle blows on their rugby roles.

They are now experiencing increasing success in sales here and further afield of their original meat products.

“The success we are enjoying with Hellbent has exceeded our initial business projections when we launched the company,” Louis admits.

“Setting up a small business in Northern Ireland was quite a leap into the dark for both of us.

“We really didn’t expect to be supplying major retailers such as Aldi Ireland, Tesco and Henderson’s Eurospar in just two years.

“Of course, this is tremendously encouraging and indicates that consumers here are developing a taste for our blend of Irish and South African flavours.

“We are finding people here are immensely supportive and very encouraging.

“They share a passion for good, tasty food, especially premium meats, with South Africans,” he says.

“Northern Ireland food, especially the beef, pork and poultry, is superb.

“I believe that people here don’t really appreciate just how good their food really is.

“There’s so much locally produced food and drink that’s readily available,” he adds.

The boerewors, a coiled beef sausage, recently won a UK Great Taste gold star, and the other products were developed with support from Jason Hamilton, managing director of Carnbrooke Meats in Lisburn.

Boerewors – the name means “farmer’s sausage” – are traditionally made from 90 per cent ground beef with spices such as coriander, black pepper and nutmeg.

Louis and Schalk created their own distinctive recipes for the beef products.

Aldi Ireland is also now selling the spicy sausages in its network of 142 supermarkets across the Irish Republic.

“We were delighted when Aldi and Henderson Group both decided to include our products.

“Selling into the Republic to Aldi gave us our first export sales and has been a marvellous boost for the business. Sales are good in both,” adds Louis.

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