‘Brexit won’t hap­pen when we see what’ s over the cliff’

Butcher pete rh ann an from mo ira on the growth of his busi­ness, turn­ing away the big re­tail­ers and why he b eli eves eu exit will beaver ted

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page -

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 up by dry-aged beef and an ar­ray of the UK’S best and bright­est restau­ra­teurs us­ing his pro­duce.

He’s aged beef for 1,300 days — yes, more than three years — purely as an ex­per­i­ment, 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 his prod­uct.

“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 Mr Han­nan says busi­ness there is grow­ing “very rapidly”.

He’s also re­cently signed a deal to sup­ply all the ho­tels in the Hast­ings Group, which is led by Howard Hast­ings. “We have had ap­proaches from all sorts (of su­per­mar­kets and re­tail­ers) over the years,” Mr Han­nan 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 a deal with the high­est-pro­file gro­cer of its kind in the UK, or even 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 Mr Han­nan, 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 it has grown into a busi­ness with a wide-va­ri­ety of prod­ucts — many of which have been pro­duced for the first time in NI. Aside from sell­ing lesser-known cuts of beef, such as hanger and rump cap, Mr Han­nan’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 him to start nam­ing some of the great­est chefs which call Han­nan Meats their beef sup­plier. They in­clude An­gela Hart­nett and Mark Hix. Hix was one of the first UK restau­ra­teurs to ex­clu­sively use Mr Han­nan’s dry-aged beef across all of his res­tau­rants — it started when they met out­side one of Mark Hix’s eater­ies and Mr Han­nan gave him an hon­est re­tort to whether he had en­joyed his meal. The beef wasn’t up to scratch.

But it’s not all about awards, top chefs, sup­pli­ers, res­tau­rants and celebrity-back­ing. Mr Han­nan 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 says. “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 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... un­less we take those peo­ple in, we don’t 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’.”

Deal­ing with any of the big mul­ti­ples has never even been on our radar

Peter Han­nan (left) at his Moira busines with Howard Hast­ings and (inset be­low) cel­e­brat­ing one of his awards

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