Paul steers growth of family business through turbulent market conditions

Interview 22-10-20 SM Farm

Paul Bell has successfully steered Prep House, his family business, through the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a very tough time, particularly for companies such as Prep House which supply restaurants, cafes and hotels,” he admits.

“And we are now facing a further period of uncertainty for at least four weeks. But we’ll get through it and, I am convinced, come out stronger on the other side,” he adds.

Paul was speaking after announcing an acquisition that will grow the business. Prep House, which specialises in sauces, mayonnaises, stocks and marinades, has expanded its existing and winning product portfolio by acquiring Hollah Preserving, another successful Northern Ireland producer, in Moira.

Based in Crossgar, County Down, Prep House, a long-standing family business supplying both retail and foodservice customers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has acquired Hollah Preserving (Hollah), a producer of spicy sauces, jam and chutney.

Prep House, he explains, has acquired Hollah as a going concern and plans to invest in the development and marketing of its range of products, including its popular and Great Taste Award-winning Bucky BBQ sauce.

Prep House will be taking over production of Hollah’s range in January.

He explains: “The Hollah products, which are established and successful, particularly in the local marketplace, are an excellent fit for our existing range of sauces.

“We see significant scope to increase sales of the Hollah products through our extensive network of retail outlets here and in the Republic of Ireland with our extensive marketing and merchandising expertise and greater resources.

“This is a strategic acquisition and is a logical extension of our engagement with smaller food businesses such as Clandeboye Yoghurt in Bangor, Long Meadow Cider in Loughgall and Farm View Dairies in Castlereagh, for quality ingredients,” he adds.

Trudy Hopkinson, one of the two founders of Hollah Preserving in 2014, will be joining Prep House to assist the further development of the existing products and new ideas in association with Prep House’s experienced New Product Development team in Crossgar.

“I am delighted to welcome Trudy to the Prep House team and look forward to working with her on the further development of Hollah’s successful products,” adds Paul.

The acquisition will also be another addition to Prep House’s growing portfolio of products which are popular in both retail and in the hospitality sector.

“The lockdown, of course, impacted adversely much of our hospitality sector business when hotels, restaurants and hotels were shuttered.

“Fortunately, we had taken steps before the pandemic to diversify customers, especially in smaller retail outlets.

“For instance, we’ve seen significant growth in butchery shops across the island of Ireland.

“Many of these family shops have developed to include sauces to accompany their range of meats.

“This is now a very dynamic aspect of our business and has helped offset difficulties in the hospitality sector that now faces a further four-week lockdown,” he adds.

The diversification and recent acquisition of Hollah Preserving positions the small and locally-owned company for continuing growth in retail in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We’ll just have to continue to work harder to get through the next few months,” he adds.

“There’s just no alternative but to follow the course we set before the outbreak of this awful virus and to continue to seek opportunities to increase sales of our products and to grow the business,” he adds.

A shrewd businessman, Paul took over the reins at the Crossgar family business in 2015 and has driven its growth through investment in people, products, innovation in facilities and processes, and customer focused services.

The company currently employs around 20 people at its modern manufacturing, new product kitchen and distribution operation in Crossgar.

The company invested more than £100,000 in the re-branding of the business and products, which included new packaging design, in 2017.

This included in-house labelling equipment and the rebranding of its sales division – from staff uniforms to vehicle graphics.

Investments were made in the creation of a state-of-the-art new product kitchen. The production plant is BRC AA Grade approved.

Paul continues: “Over the years we’ve established an excellent reputation for the quality of our chilled range, supplying both the retail and foodservice sector with our product.”

The company has also embraced health trends and is planning further investment in low-salt, low-fat and gluten free products. Further development of plant-based products for consumers is underway.

Awards for taste and quality have also followed from the UK Quality Food and Drink, Great Taste Awards and the Blas na hEireann Irish National Awards.

In addition, Prep House won gold stars in the recent UK Great Taste Awards 2020 for its innovative Whiskey and South West sauces.

Hollah Preserving was formed by neighbours and good friends Trudy Hodkinson and Paula Latuske.

The Moira-based housewives, both mothers of three young girls, are food enthusiasts and talked about developing a small business focusing on their mutual interest in original jams and chutneys.

They set up the artisan enterprise in 2014 to produce what they said was “a modern take on traditional and long popular condiments,” according to Trudy.

The name Hollah came from a play on their surnames. They began creating innovative flavours of jams and chutneys in Paula’s kitchen.

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