An extraordinary indigenous success story by any standards, Clonakilty Food Company continues to move forward progressively, introducing exciting new products to its world-renowned range. We touched base with managing director Colette Twomey to get an update on some of the latest innovations at this multi-award-winning family-run operation, including the launch of Clonakilty Black Pudding Sausage and Clonakilty Veggie Pudding as well as the development of their superb new on-site visitor centre.
Rising from the humblest of origins, Clonakilty Food Company has grown steadily down through the years to make a dramatic impression within the food industry, nor just here in Ireland but worldwide, with its sumptuous produce now available as far away as Australia. Renowned for their mouth-watering, market-leading Clonakilty Blackpudding and Clonakilty Whitepudding, they also produce Clonakilty sausages and rashers, while the two newest products added to their ever-expanding and simply-delicious range are Clonakilty Black Pudding Sausage and Clonakilty Veggie Pudding.
Last year, the West Cork company – which generates direct employment for a team of 58 – opened a new visitor centre at their modern, custom-built state-of-the-art plant in the town they have helped put on the map. Having yet again struck gold at the prestigious Agribusiness and Blas na hÉireann Irish Food Awards that year, they moved into the new multi-million-euro facility in October, 2017 – returning home to Clonakilty after an 18-year absence.
The modern production facility also houses administration offices, new product development facilities and distribution, while the vision of the newly-added visitor centre is to immerse visitors in the history and tradition of Clonakilty Blackpudding, offering them an opportunity to see how it’s made, and to highlight the company’s pride in the town it originates from.
“We launched the black pudding sausage in 2018 and the veggie pudding in 2019. Both have proven to be very popular alongside our more-established products,” notes MD Colette Twomey. “The introduction of these new products was in direct response to consumer demand, to give people more choice. The veggie pudding is not only aimed at vegans and vegetarians but also anybody who wants a meat-free day or a greater choice of what to eat.”
The Clonakilty Blackpudding Visitor Centre was officially opened at Clonakilty HQ last August. The visitor centre offers an interactive, self-guided tour taking the guest through the story of how Clonakilty Food Company came to be. The visitor is given a glimpse of Clonakilty in the 1880s, when Clonakilty Blackpudding was first made and how it has evolved throughout the generations from small beginnings in a butcher shop in Pearse Street to the present day where you can find it in every county in Ireland as well as in the UK, Europe, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.
One can experience Clonakilty in the 1980s, learn how the Twomey family story started, and get right into the heart of an Irish food company that is filled with a strong sense of family tradition and Clonakilty pride. The various interactive elements include holograms and a spice rack to test the senses, while the visitors is also granted a unique opportunity to see the production line and observe from the viewing gallery how Clonakilty Blackpudding is made. The one-hour tour concludes with sampling delicious samples of Clonakilty Blackpudding, Clonakilty Whitepudding, Ispíní Sausages, Clonakilty Black Pudding Sausage and Clonakilty Veggie Pudding in the café.
“Unfortunately, due to the restrictions, we have only really got a few weeks out of the visitors centre so far, but it is a great addition,” Colette continues. “It was very popular with tourists and local people alike before we had to close it down temporarily, but we are ready to open again once the restrictions are lifted. People are genuinely fascinated by the history behind the Blackpudding and they really enjoy looking down into the factory from an overhead vantage point.”
The genesis of the visitor centre is in keeping with Clonakilty Food Company’s status as a totally customer-focussed business, constantly seeking out better ways to bring customers more product lines and a better customer experience.
For their world-famous Clonakilty Blackpudding – made in West Cork and enjoyed all over the world – Clonakilty Food Company use a recipe that originated in the town of Clonakilty in the 1880s and hasn’t changed in that time. Since the Twomey family took responsibility for the secret recipe in the 1980s, the popularity of the Blackpudding has continued to grow, spreading across the globe.
For example, Clonakilty Blackpudding and Clonakilty Whitepudding are now available in Australia, where they are contract-manufactured in Melbourne. “I send the spice out to a local butcher over there, in whom I have great trust and confidence to manufacture the puddings to the highest standard,” Colette confirms.
The story of Clonakilty Food Company began in 1976 when Edward Twomey – armed with the aforementioned secret recipe for black pudding – purchased a butcher shop in the centre of the West Cork town of the same name. To this day, Edward Twomey Butchers remains a thriving business at the heart of Clonakilty town.
As a hands-on director, Colette personifies the work ethic, family values and personal input that have driven the success of Clonakilty Food Company down through the years and decades. To maintain the integrity of the secret recipe, she even mixes the spices herself every week! The positive spin-off effect Clonakilty Food Company has in supporting local industry is immeasurable:
“We source locally wherever possible and we also grew some of our own onions this year,” the personable MD reveals. “A local grower grew them for us on our own land and those 25 acres worked out really well. We used those onions in our puddings and the travel miles on them was only five kilometres. Our oats come from Flahavan’s and we get our meats from an export-licensed premises; everything is sourced as locally as possible.”
The popularity of all the products – both at home and abroad – is quite remarkable: “We now have the biggest-selling sausage in Ireland, which we are very proud of,” says Colette. “That was built on the back of the success of the Blackpudding and likewise Clonakilty Whitepudding followed the Blackpudding and things have just grown naturally. In the early days, the Blackpudding, based on our 100-year recipe, was our main focus but the Whitepudding and sausage have since taken on lives of their own.”
All in all, Clonakilty Food Company represents an incredible success story – a cottage industry that has become a global brand. How proud is the MD of this achievement? “We are probably too caught up in the day-to-day running of the business to really dwell on that. There is always something going on. At the moment, we are in the process of changing the labels. You have to keep investing time and money in the business – you can’t stand still. It’s a journey, not a destination. I just get on with it and I know I have been very lucky with the staff and the team we have here.
“Everybody has worked so well together and never has this been more evident than in Covid times. Last March, we had to meet and organise the workers into two shifts so that they weren’t meeting or coming into contact as much and all those who could work from home were sent home. It’s been a difficult year for the staff.
“It’s fire-fighting all the time and it’s been tough because some of them haven’t met since March, 2020. We are a close-knit team and this makes for a fragmented workplace, while everyone has their own Covid-related external issues too. They are glad to be still working, but it’s hard on those on the floor and I’d be the first to acknowledge this. But we’re all doing the best we can.
“At Christmas, we would normally have a Christmas party and lunches and gatherings but all of that was cancelled, and I was restricted myself for a period. For a business it is very difficult, but these are the challenges everybody is facing at the moment.”
Always innovative, Clonakilty Food Company produced a successful Christmas hamper, which was delivered worldwide, as well as a Valentine’s Bouquet and a well-received Black & White Cookbook, which celebrates Clonakilty Blackpudding and Clonakilty Whitepudding. This hardback cookbook contains a carefully-curated selection of recipes which have been crafted by some of Ireland’s leading chefs, food writers and home cooks including Clodagh McKenna, Adrian Martin. Joe Shannon, Gastro Gays and Lilly Higgins.
“The cookbook was inspired by so many people sending us in their recipes,” Colette concludes. “It’s really inspirational what people have done with it – the puddings are not just being enjoyed as part of a breakfast fry. They are serving it on toast with avocado, stuffed in chicken or with feta cheese in salads … the options are unlimited.”
Clonakilty Food Company,
Telephone: 023 88 34835
Fax: 023 88 33664
Email: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 9 No 3, May/June 2021