Leading meat wholesaler Jason Hamilton readily admits his decision to invest in an extensive food hall as part of a new factory near Lisburn in Co Antrim has proved “an outstanding success”.
The new shop – established ahead of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic – was a significant investment by Carnbrooke Meats, the successful meat processing business Jason founded and runs with wife Jacqueline, whose background is in veterinary medicine. Jason started the processing business in Dromara in 2011 on the back of his knowledge and experience as a butcher, small farmer and in meat sales.
“The new shop, which is located on Ballynahinch Road, specialises in our meats, ready meals prepared by our team of chefs and other grocery items including foods from local artisan suppliers such as dairy from Draynes Farm in Lisburn. It’s doing extremely well with shoppers from the area, other parts of Northern Ireland, and even from the Republic of Ireland,” says Jason.
Shoppers, he continues, have been stocking up on Carnbrooke’s range of premium meat pies in particularbecause of the quality of the ingredients and outstanding taste. “Shoppers know that the pies are made entirely by us with our meats without any fillers,” he says. “We can stand over the provenance and traceability of our all meats and meals as well as products in the shop sourced from local suppliers we know and trust,” he adds.
Carnbrooke Meats has a longstanding reputation for quality and tasty meats supplied to the hospitality sector hereincluding top hotels and high-end restaurants; success which led Jason and Jacqueline to move from Dromara to the much larger premises in Lisburn. “We always had a shop at Dromara but proved too small because of the growth in demand from shoppers for the meats they had enjoyed in the hospitality outlets,” he explains.
The switch to the extensive site in Lisburn, part of which was once a car showroom, enabled Jason to develop a much larger processing plant of 8,000 sq ft and to create the 3,000 sq ft food hall. There’s also an in-store kitchen for the preparation of Carnbrooke branded ready meals. Another feature of the complex is a Himalayan salt chamber for dry-aged meat. The whole development represents an investment of almost £2 million and employs over 50 people with additional jobs in the pipeline.
The move coincided with the first coronavirus lockdown which impacted adversely on Carnbrooke’s successful foodservice business. “The lockdown, of course, was a severe blow coming just after we had invested in the new expanded operation”, Jason says.
“Fortunately, the food hall was up and running and is helpingoffset the setback in hospitality of two lockdowns over the past eight months. It now accounts for around 50 percent of our business.
“I really feel for everyone in hospitality. It’s been a terribletime for them. I talk to our customers in the sector regularly and really do hope they’ll be able to open their doors soon. I also know that they’ve all spent a lot of money on making their premises as safe as they can be for customers and staff,” he adds.
He reckons it will be some considerable time before hospitality fully recovers from the lockdowns. “It’ll be a while before our tourism industry, for instance, gets moving again. The hospitality industry was going really well last year and looking forward to continuing growth in visitors from abroad towards the end of last year.
“There were hopes that 2020 could see records broken again in terms of overseas visitors. These hopes were dashed by the virus from last April. It looks as likely that the industry will have to depend on staycationers for much of next year,” he adds.
The provenance and quality of the food hall’s range of foods are proving extremely popular with shoppers, which, according to national surveys, are increasingly opting for local food and speciality grocers.
“We’re certainly extremely busy throughout the week and especially at the weekend,” Jason says. “As a result, our retail sales have grown to 50 percent of our business at this immensely challenging time. “We’re now seen as a one-stop shop for people seeking exceptional food and especially premium meats –beef, bacon, pork, lamb and poultry – and fish, all of which are sourced locally. There’s also a comprehensive selection of local artisan products,” he adds.
Teams of Master Butchers cut every order to each customer’s exact specification. Experienced chefs prepare established dishes and meats and also come up regularly with new meal ideas.
The line-up of meats includes Mourne Lamb which he sends to the Michelin-starred OX and to the Deane’s restaurant group. “Our pork is reared by John Ferguson of Dromara in Co. Down. Kenneth Moffitt provides Thornhill ducks and Finnebrogue, near Downpatrick, the venison.”
Carnbrooke has also responded to the lockdowns by providing home deliveries – up to 150 a day – using its own fleet of refrigerated vans. Boxes of products required by customers, in addition, are sent to callers here and across Britain and the Republic of Ireland.