Half century of growth for NI agri-success story

Harry and Derek Geddis, centre left and right, with Derek's son and daughter Greer and Dawn who have joined them in the business
Harry and Derek Geddis, centre left and right, with Derek's son and daughter Greer and Dawn who have joined them in the business

A County Armagh company started 50 years ago by two brothers growing market vegetables is now one of Northern Ireland’s biggest agri-food success stories - re-investing about £20million a year back into the NI economy.

Avondale Foods in Lurgan was started five decades ago by Harry and Derek Geddis, who began growing and selling vegetables from the family farm.

It now supplies own brand potato salad and coleslaw to all Waitrose and Marks & Spencer stores across the whole of UK, as well as coleslaws and vegetable accompaniments through Dunnes, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons and other retail outlets under ‘own brand’ and the company’s Country Kitchen brand.

The family business employs over 380 people in state of the art production premises in the heart of the Armagh countryside.

Over the years, Avondale has focused the business on value-added products and innovation, a track which has kept it not only growing, but leading its sector.

Derek Geddis said, “We started out in 1965, growing vegetables for sale in markets and shop. Marks & Spencer was one of our first retail customers when we started supplying vegetables to the Belfast store in 1968.

“It was a very different time – the produce market and the green-grocer were at the heart of the shopping experience then.

“As the pace of life began to change, supermarkets grew in popularity and we made a simple diversification into pre-packed vegetables to make them more convenient to buy.

“As the business grew, we outsourced our produce, using our own experience in horticulture to ensure that growers supplied us with high quality produce.

“We began to look at ways we could add value to our products and so coleslaw was our first major product development. Things really started to grow from there.”

During the 1980s the company’s main business was within pre-packed vegetables, salads and coleslaw, but with the growth of a dedicated product development team, the firm begin to supply sauces and mayonnaises in both wholesale and retail formats.

In 1992 Avondale bought the Country Kitchen brand which is sold across Northern Ireland today with a market-leading range of salads and soups.

The company’s core business in 2015 is the production and development of own brand products for many of the UK’s biggest retailers, recently diversifying into garlic doughballs, which are manufactured in the company’s on-site bakery.

The Geddis family, including Derek’s son and daughter, Greer and Dawn, aren’t afraid to innovate.

“We started with just two staff and now we can have up to 450 at peak production times,” said Derek.

“The bulk of our business is coleslaws and side salads, which have short shelf lives so in times of increased demand, such as a heatwave, we have the flexibility to increase our production capacity quickly to meet demand.

“Through employment and local suppliers, we now re-invest about £20million per annum back into the NI economy and that’s very important to us.

“It’s great to see more emphasis being put on Northern Ireland as a culinary destination, especially with next year being Northern Ireland’s “Year of Food.”