Enterprising farmer Mervyn tasting success with Christmas gammons

Thousands of families here this weekend will be enjoying traditional dry-cured gammon that’s been lovingly hand cured by one of Northern Ireland’s most successful and award-winning artisan producers.

Monday, 20th December 2021, 6:00 am
Mervyn Kennedy of Omagh’s Kennedy Bacon is a popular trader of hand cured atisan pork products including traditional Christmas gammons at markets across Northern Ireland and Donegal

Thousands of families here this weekend will be enjoying traditional dry-cured gammon that’s been lovingly hand cured by one of Northern Ireland’s most successful and award-winning artisan producers.

Tyrone pig farmer Mervyn Kennedy has created a successful food enterprise, Kennedy Bacon, which is based near Omagh and is a popular stalwart at food and farmers’ markets across NI and into Donegal.

He’s been “extremely busy” over the past few weeks with his gammon, bacon and other artisan products at markets such as Antrim, Dungannon, Omagh,

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Coleraine and Comber, benefiting from the growing demand among shoppers here for local foods from producers, especially artisans, they know and trust to supply premium quality, taste and wholesomeness.

As a result of the strength of his dedication to direct marketing, Mervyn has become one of the best known market traders here due to his passion for chatting to shoppers about his portfolio of dry-cured meats from his own pigs and how he crafts them on the farm that’s been in his family for generations.

“I love the craic with shoppers at the markets and have made very many great customers - and friends - who come to my stalls for bacon, gammon, pork sausages’ and cooked ham every week,” Mervyn says. “While Christmas is always a very busy time for the business, this year has been manic. We’ve been exceptionally busy in the plant on our farm preparing gammons in particular. We’ll have supplied many thousands for the traditional Christmas meals.”

Mervyn’s bacon, gammons, hams and sausages are closely supervised by him and are all produced without added water and preservatives on the farm which observes to the highest hygiene and animal welfare standards. The biggest problem he’s faced this year is in binding the gammons for sale, a traditional requirement.

“We are continuing to keep pace with existing demand from shoppers who’ve placed advance orders at markets and will be able to provide the products at all forthcoming events and through our website ahead of Christmas,” he continues. “It used to easy to find people in rural areas who knew how to tie the gammons quickly but times have changed and we’ve had to do more ourselves and train others in this important skill.

“What helps to set my products apart is my unique dry-curing technique. It’s my own recipe from my experience of rearing my own pigs over a many years. This ensures total traceability and provenance. I also slice, prepare and package the bacon, gammon, hams and sausages.”

In addition to his longstanding focus on local markets, Mervyn’s artisan products, the quality and tastes of which have been endorsed by UK Great Taste and Blas na hEireann Irish Food awards over many years, are now featuring in hundreds of delis and farm shops here and are steadily attracting orders from major food retailers like Eurospar, Sainsbury’s and SuperValu.

“Markets are immensely important because they have helped to raise awareness of our products among shoppers and have led them to approach delis and other retailers for these. I greatly appreciate the support from local delis and farm shops. They have helped my business enormously and encouraged approaches from major grocers,” he says.

While he intends to continue to take part in the programme of existing markets here and to support new ones in the years ahead, Mervyn will be seeking to strengthen relationships with the bigger grocers.

“Markets will remain essential to us, nonetheless, because we are small business with very limited funds for advertising and other costly marketing activities. It’s also because I really do enjoy them – even when it’s raining - and meeting existing and potential customers. Kennedy Bacon is essentially a people business that’s dedicated to supplying the best and tastiest bacon, gammons, sausages and hams. It’s what we are all about.”

His approach is also in line with market research which has found food shoppers are keen to know how the people producing the items they buy for their family lunch and dinner tables. Mervyn is also one of our most enterprising artisan foodies in terms of the foods he crafts, in sales and in the development of production facilities. As well as a sizeable production plant on the Omagh farm, he’s invested in a factory in Donegal’s Gaeltacht that’s enabled him to expand his roasting services especially premium cooked, sliced and packaged hams.

He’s a third generation pig farmer on land his family has owned since moving there from Donegal in the forties. He rears over 2,000 pigs. Another successful side to the small business is the provision of hog roasts for various events including parties and weddings.

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