True food innovator wins top UK accolade for outstanding enterprise

Interview 26/11/20 SM Farm

Being named Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 by the influential Grocer magazine, the UK food and grocery industry’s leading publication, is well-deserved recognition for Denis Lynn, the chairman of Finnebrogue Artisan.

He is a visionary businessman and true innovator who is pioneering the development of healthier food, including plant-based products for consumers across the UK and Ireland.

The Downpatrick-based businessman gained the recognition last week from a panel of industry leaders in the influential Grocer Gold Awards. It’s the first time the prestigious award has been won by a local businessman.

He’s the driving force in market leading food innovations such as Finnebrogue’s revolutionary nitrite-free bacon, ham and reduced fat pork sausages, the development of plant based foods as well as flexitarian products at the company, a Food NI member.

“It’s a great honour to be named Entrepreneur of the Year in these hugely important awards for our industry and a tremendous recognition for whole team at Finnebrogue, which is demonstrating a dedication to quality and, above, all innovation,” he says.

The company, furthermore, gained a UK Quality Award for its smoked, streaky nitrite-free bacon and was commended for its reduced fat pork sausages.

His commitment to innovation was highlighted in the outstanding national success in sales of the company’s bacon and ham without nitrites and other ‘nasties’ such as additives and other chemicals.

These are now in the chillers in virtually every supermarket chain and leading grocers across the UK, an outstanding marketing success.

For 16 years The Grocer Gold Awards, organised by the top trade journal, have been a symbol of quality and excellence in the FMCG sector.

There were 20 categories, focusing on key business areas such as innovation and customer satisfaction.

The awards provide a platform for recognition for all – whether a large multiple supplier or independent operator.

Two other Food NI companies – Mash Direct from Comber and food wholesaler Henderson Group in Newtownabbey – were shortlisted in separate categories.

Finnebrogue Artisan, which is based in a state-of-the-art production complex outside the County Down market town, is part of Lynn’s Country Foods formed by Denis in 1985.

Finnebrogue also recently announced plans to develop a £25 million factory for plant-based foods.

The latest investment will take the company’s head count to 1,200 by the end of next year.

It will be Finnebrogue’s fourth new factory in five years and will also carry forward his commitment to automate production as much as practicable.

The investment is being made because of “a surging demand from an educated and discerning consumer base for more delicious, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food and particularly plant-based food”. Flexitarians, or meat reducers, are the key market. “The people who buy our bacon without nitrites and our preservative-free sausages are the same people who are increasingly seeking one or two days off meat a week,” he adds.

“The new facility will enable us to provide our consumers with the more nutritious and sustainable food they are demanding increasingly.”

It’s a development welcomed too by UK Environment Secretary George Eustice.

“I am very pleased that Finnebrogue’s brand new investment will provide a valuable boost to local employment opportunities in Northern Ireland, advancing the company’s ambition to create and promote fantastic and affordable UK food,” he says

Ten years ago Finnebrogue employed 30 people and turned over £3 million. The company plans to reach a turnover of £220 million by 2023.

The business has also become a UK leader in sausages, especially pork for supermarkets, and particularly Marks and Spencer. It has developed innovative food in association with the prestigious food retailer.

The company’s responsiveness and versatility brought praise from Steve McLean, M&S Head of Agriculture & Fisheries, who says: “Finnebrogue is continuously making changes to its product lines to meet customer needs and trends.

“By implementing a world class approach to new product development and originality, it has successfully maintained its name for good quality and pioneering products,” he adds.

An impressive endorsement of the company’s approach to business.

The relationship with M&S stretches back to the earliest days of the business when he produced venison from his 700-acre Finnebrogue estate to the highest animal welfare standards, which also attracted orders from international celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.

It’s an enterprise that’s always had a strong connection to the land and the environment.

“Whether through planting 6,000 native trees to promote biodiversity or through guaranteeing a fair price to our farmers, we strive to ensure that we protect farming for the future.

“We also appreciate that happy animals make great food and that they deserve a good life.

“That’s why we’re one of the UK’s largest buyers of outdoor bred, free range and organic pork,” Denis has said.

He has now created one of the most technologically advanced food processing plants of its type on these islands and probably in Europe.

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