Tom Keogh, MD of Keogh’s Crisps – producers of award-winning crisps and potatoes – talks about pivoting his business during the pandemic and giving back to Ireland’s frontline healthcare workers.
Being a family business that sources its ingredients and hires its staff locally, Keogh’s have an ethos that is based around community and support. And this very ethos is what prompted founder Tom Keogh to set up a fundraising initiative during the pandemic called Ireland Thanks You.
“My wife, and many other family members, work as nurses,” he explains. “So I got a real insight into the day-to-day risks their roles involve. We started doing food drops around hospitals but we wanted to do something bigger, especially as we couldn’t find a charity for frontline healthcare workers that put something directly in the hands of healthcare workers.”
The fundraiser guarantees that 100% of every donation goes directly to healthcare workers. Those in facilities that were most greatly impacted by Covid-19 will receive a €100 voucher.
“We have raised about €80,000 so far and are on track to reach €100,000 by the end of the month, which is fantastic.”
Challenges and positives
Impressively, Tom and his team put in long days and nights over a period of three weeks to develop the campaign, even though there were a lot of changes happening within their business due to the pandemic. However, he feels fortunate that business continues to boom.
“Two-thirds of food in Ireland is consumed in the home and one-third is outside of the home. Two-thirds of our sales were in the multiple retail sectors, in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, and Musgrave, for example, and one-third of our sales were in the food service sector.
“We saw one-third of the sales of our crisps completely disappear overnight. Then there was the uncertainty with exports. The pandemic has naturally had a negative impact on any development we had been working on overseas.”
But on the positive side, Tom says the increase in top retailers in Ireland was dramatic.
“Some weeks, we saw a 70% increase in demand. The extra demand more than accounted for the loss we saw in the food service sector.”
“We were also lucky enough that we had a huge amount of products on the sea when Covid-19 struck, which meant they were pulled in quickly to overseas markets. The States have seen the same big demand in multiple retail, that we have seen in Ireland.”
Indeed, Keogh’s are no stranger to trying times, having seen a 10-year decline in fresh potato consumption in Ireland in 2011.
“Our market was disappearing for fresh potatoes in Ireland and being potato growers for over 200 years, we needed to do something about it,” says Tom. “We were part of the Food Works Programme, an accelerator programme for high potential food businesses, for our potatoes at the time, and the idea for crisps actually spun off towards the end of this.”
Tom says Enterprise Ireland played a huge role in helping them get the business off the ground. “We had fantastic help from the Local Enterprise Office in Fingal, who provided us with a small repayable grant to get the business up-and-running. Bord Bia were a help too.
“We have seen considerable growth in the business since and we continue to have strong links with Enterprise Ireland.” said Tom
What has Tom learned from the pandemic?
“The world is a small place! We never imagined coronavirus would impact Ireland as much as it has, so it has opened my eyes. One of the things that has worked well for us is the fact we sell products in different sectors in many different countries. We had some areas that performed extremely well and some were poor, but because we had that spread of business, it allowed us to continue trading.”
During the pandemic, the Keogh’s Crisps team was also able to focus on the e-commerce side of things and launch an online shop section on their site.
“We turned it around in about nine days. A big thing I’ve learned is that, as a business, we can keep focused, adapt, and do anything when we need to.”