Posted on Friday 14 September 2018 by John Mulgrew

Damien

Since taking over at the helm of Henderson Foodservice more than a decade ago, boss Damien Barrett tells John Mulgrew the firm is heading towards a £115m turnover

Marking 50 years in business last year, Henderson Foodservice now has more than 420 staff between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Just this summer, the company, which is part of the Henderson Group – a business which came in at the number six spot in the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2018 list – took on the 25-year-old Co Monaghan firm BD Foods, founded by the Bowe family, parents of retired Ulster and Ireland rugby star Tommy Bowe.

That will see the business dealing in everything from top-end truffles (the sort found in the ground by pigs and dogs, and not the chocolate variety) to Iberico ham.

“Food service is an all-Ireland business, as opposed to the rest of the group. We supply across the 32 counties,” Damien Barrett told Ulster Business.

“We supply into every food service sector, from top hotels, coffee shops, cafes, bars, nursing homes, schools and hospitals.

“We have had fairly substantial growth in the last number of years.

“I took over 10 or 11 years ago. We were doing around £31-32m (turnover). This year, it should do £115m.”

Speaking about taking on the luxury BD Foods business, he said:

“It’s very high-end, so it will do everything from truffles at three thousand a kilo, to Iberico ham. We also just won the Investors in People Gold Award, and part of that was about our strategic management.

“We looked at that a few years ago, looking at how do we get to £100m. How do we shape the senior management? We wanted to get into areas of the market we hadn’t been in.

“A lot of what we tried to do is lay out a strong core vision. We wanted to get closer to the customer, be easy and agile to do business with, be full of passionate and caring people.

“We are about 420 people north and south. We are among the Deloitte Best Managed Companies for four years.

“As employment becomes tighter you have to invest in your people. A lot is how do we attract and retain the best. A lot of that is investment in training.”

But, like many in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland, Brexit is around the corner – at some stage. Damien says the main issue facing the business is the ongoing currency fluctuations, given the business is all-island.

“Being all-Ireland, we already have the challenge of two currencies. We have infrastructure north and south. It’s very hard to predict the unknown – if our betters can’t do it, I’m not sure how much of a benefit it is to second guess… no one can say which direction it will go.”

Asked about the impact of potential delays hitting trade, Damien says many people don’t realise that while products on the face of it appear to be from the UK, core ingredients could come from elsewhere in the EU – and that’s something which could be impacted following Brexit.

“We might be buying Heinz ketchup in the UK, but the reality is the tomatoes are coming from Italy,” he said. “There will be tariffs, but how much, and what will be agreed? That will have an effect on what manufacturers will charge.”

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