Posted on Thursday 4 October 2018 by Ulster Business

Pete 2

Peter Hannan tells John Mulgrew about turning away the big retailers, growing trade by 40% and that he doesn’t believe Brexit will happen once people see what’s at the edge of the cliff

Like many in his industry, Peter Hannan is no fan of Brexit.

But the top-end beef and red meat supplier also doesn’t think it’s going to happen, given how disastrous the post-Brexit landscape is painted, now that it’s been starkly laid out in front of everyone.

The Kildare-born businessman runs Hannan Meats, based in Moira. He’s become something of a star of the Northern Ireland food scene in the last decade – buoyed on by dry-aged beef and an array of the UK’s best and brightest using his produce.

He’s aged beef for 1,300 days – yes, more than three years – although purely experimental, boosted turnover by around 40% in the last two or three years, picked up more three-star awards from the Great Taste Awards than almost any other food firm, and now plans to expand into Dublin as his next venture, by the end of the year.

Anyone who’s met the Meat Merchant – the moniker given to his retail business in Moira – will know that the 58-year-old is a personable, larger-than-life character, whose own personality contributes as much to his business and brand, as does his meat.

“Our main areas of growth in the last three years have been into the UK, Republic of Ireland and the continent. We haven’t been looking at doing more at home here, because we have a presence, and we think it’s very adequate. We don’t push that, or cold call. We think the clients that we have in Northern Ireland are the best, and we aren’t looking to expand on that.”

France is also becoming a growing market for the company, and Pete says business there is growing “very rapidly”.

He’s also recently signed a deal to supply all of the Hastings Hotels’ spots.

“We have approaches from all sorts (of supermarkets and retailers) over the years,” Pete says. “We are primarily a food service company, so dealing with any of the multiples – doing it a lot more, or not doing it as well has never been on our radar. We’ve had them drive in to the yard here – four suits getting out of a black-windowed car. You are watching on the camera and say ‘oh, that’s somebody’.

“Everyone has different ideas. We just don’t believe they are the type of partner that we would want. We don’t want to do 200 tonnes a week of commercial product.”

But a few years ago, he did the highest-profile grocer of its kind in the UK – arguably the world.

“Five years ago we started to deal with Fortnum & Mason, and they are truly magnificent to deal with,” he said. “That was a turning point because, regardless of what anybody says, the best front window for food in the world is Fortnum & Mason.”

According to Pete, business in the five years since the relationship began has increased by 4,000% – or around 40 times.

What started as a meat wholesale business, blossomed thanks to the success of Hannan Meats’ Himalayan salt-aged Glenarm beef, and has grown into a business with a wide-variety of products – many of which have been done for the first time in NI.

Aside from selling lesser-known cuts of beef, such as hanger and rump cap, Pete’s business has diversified into dry-aging lamb, and curing both pork and beef in a sugar-pit – producing hugely flavoured bacon and cured-beef.
It doesn’t take long for Pete to start naming some of the greatest chefs which call Hannan Meats their beef supplier. That includes Angela Harrnett and Mark Hix. He was one of the first UK restaurateurs to exclusively use Peter’s dry-aged beef across all of his restaurants – it all started when Pete met Mark outside one of his eateries and gave him an honest retort to whether he had enjoyed his meal. The beef wasn’t up to scratch.

But it’s not all just awards, top chefs, suppliers, restaurants and celebrity-backing. Pete says turnover is up around 40% in the last two to three years – sitting at around £10m.

“We have lots of other things going on in the background. Taking our next step forward is something we have been considering. We are at a crossroads as to where we take the business next. We are now at a point, do we go forward with the likes of our Meat Merchant (the retail business at the headquarters in Moira), do we take that to a city? Dublin would be next on the radar.”

On Brexit, he doesn’t think it’s going to happen – given a clearer image of what life outside the EU could look like.

“No doubt, all of us in business have been reluctant to make decisions because there is no clarity,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think we will Brexit. We need to go and apologise, and say ‘as we were’ and just get on. It was a hell of a bad idea. It was sold based on rubbish information, and that’s why people made a rubbish decision.

“Now that we have a bit of clarity – Theresa May is bringing us to the cliff edge, and saying ‘that’s how far down it is – have a look, if you tell me to jump, I’ll jump… but we don’t have to’.

“This whole thing about immigration. The thing about bringing 250,000 people into this country every year needed to be explained to take that issue off the table. If you want your fruit picked, if you want doctors and nurses in the NHS, for example... if you want any of those things, then let’s put up the barriers. Unless we take those people in, we don’t have have those things done.

“… we shouldn’t be in this position, and I don’t think we will be for much longer. Once Theresa May brings these things to the cliff, no one will say that they want to jump.

“I think there is a huge head of steam. People will say ‘we won’t take that deal’.”

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