Speciality food markets the perfect platform for new taste sensations

Agri-entrepreneur Mervyn Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh launches new product – a ‘cook in a bag’ bacon loin roast at outdoor markets

By Sam Butler
Monday, 6th June 2022, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 6th June 2022, 9:52 am
Mervyn Kennedy, founder of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh, is a keen supporter of the dozens of farmers’ and food markets across Northern Ireland. Pictured is Mervyn launching a new ‘cook in a bag’ bacon loin roast at the recent Causeway speciality food market in Coleraine
Mervyn Kennedy, founder of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh, is a keen supporter of the dozens of farmers’ and food markets across Northern Ireland. Pictured is Mervyn launching a new ‘cook in a bag’ bacon loin roast at the recent Causeway speciality food market in Coleraine

Agri-entrepreneur Mervyn Kennedy of Kennedy Bacon in Omagh chose to launch an original food product at a series of farmers’ markets across Northern Ireland last week as part of a blended marketing strategy.

The new product – a ‘cook in a bag’ bacon loin roast that’s dry-cured and features a glaze of Armagh Bramley Apples and maple – was introduced by Mervyn and his small team at outdoor markets in Antrim, Ballycastle, Comber, Coleraine, Cookstown and Dungannon.

While Mervyn’s handcrafted products, especially his dry-cured bacon, are already on sale in major convenience stores, such as Eurospar, Sainsbury’s and SuperValu, across Northern Ireland, and chosen by chefs in leading hotels and restaurants, he still loves the opportunities the markets provide to talk directly to shoppers seeking local food at the right price.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“I started my business more than a decade ago by selling bacon at markets across the region and still see their value in raising awareness of my products and for obtaining feedback from shoppers,” explains Mervyn. “I’ve found the markets enable me to sample the products with shoppers who are now keen to put a face to the foods they wish to buy and to enjoy their rich flavours.”

Mervyn, who runs an extensive family pig farm just outside Omagh town, has noticed that shoppers are increasingly seeking out local foods from the dozens of markets across Northern Ireland.

“Shoppers are now interested in the wide variety of local products because of their freshness, quality, taste and value for money,” he

continues. “They realise too that buying local helps smaller producers here and benefits the economy of rural communities in particular. Buying local food preserves jobs and can help create new employment opportunities. The markets, moreover, help to connect consumers with local farms and are a great springboard for start-up enterprises.

“I see the farmers’ and food markets here as a very effective way to support my products on sale in the convenience stores and delis,” he adds. “It demonstrates to retailers the strength of my commitment to help them in selling my products.”

The new bacon loin roast is sourced from his own pigs and features a collaboration with McIvor Cider of Portadown in the development of the unique glaze.

“It’s a response to discussions with shoppers at markets during the coronavirus lockdown who were looking for convenience meals,” he explains. “Our hams have long been popular here and so it made sense to come up with the ‘cook in a bag’ bacon loin roast. It’s been well received at the markets over the past week. The sales and feedback have encouraged me to pitch the new product to buyers in the convenience stores,” he adds.

Growing success with the retailers won’t lead to Mervyn opting out from the markets which can be immensely challenging during the inevitable rainy, frosty and snowy days that are such a feature here.

“I don’t have a budget for major advertising campaigns on television, the radio and in the papers,” he continues. “Markets enable me to reach out to existing and potential customers and to raise awareness of my products with local people.”

In addition to his bacon products, which have won prestigious UK Great Taste and Blas na hEireann Irish National Food awards, he’s successfully launched a traditional cooked ham and premium pork sausages from his processing operation on the Omagh farm. Other novel products included a bacon cured in Irish whiskey.

Kennedy Bacon, furthermore is among a growing trend among artisan and smaller food companies investing the time and other resources in taking part in dozens of farmers’ and food markets across Northern Ireland, a development promoted by the hugely successful Food NI Year of Food and Drink in 2016.

While most of the markets are backed by local councils, a growing number are now privately organised ventures.

Tourism NI, in addition, has recognised the role of the markets as colourful destinations for visitors wishing to experience local food and culture.

There are now around 50 markets here, which meet either on a weekly or monthly basis. They are among almost 1,500 markets across the UK with a combined turnover in excess of £3 billion. Some 77 percent of participants are sole traders.

They are increasingly being seen as important to the recovery and renaissance of beleaguered high streets.

Local food provenance is of growing importance. Research has shown that markets are a proven outlet for local food. And that they also have a major environmental benefit in helping reduce food miles. They can be the catalyst to help rebuild footfall particularly with the emphasis of shopping safety in the open air at outdoor markets especially post-Covid.