Beef processor Linden Foods origins can be traced back to 1998 when two of Northern Ireland’s most established red-meat processors – Granville Meats and Milltown Livestock and Meat – merged. Six years later, the Fane Valley Cooperative Society was to become the majority owner.

Today the company is part of the Linden Food Group, which also incorporates Slaney Foods and Irish Country Meats. The group has a turnover of more than £300 million and employs 1,100 people across seven sites in Ireland and England.

A sign of the company’s phenomenal success in the meat processing sector perhaps can be found by the company’s recent opening of a new state-of-the-art retail packing and product development facility in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone on 13 January 2011. The facilities are the result of a £10 million investment by the company, creating 85 new jobs over the next three years and bringing Linden’s total employment figure to 520.

“The new facility is a direct result of the huge growth we have witnessed in our business.” says Elaine Willis, Linden Food’s Innovation and Business Development Manager. “A few years ago we had to face facts that we had outgrown our existing premises and would need to invest in our site if we were going to continue to build the business. By making the investment in a new state-of-the-art packing facility we now have greater capabilities for packing retail products for supermarkets. It has also allowed us to redeploy the space that was used by our previous packing line which has given us additional room to dedicate to other processes, for example, our deboning operation.”

This increase in capability is not only good news for Linden but also for its customers. The company has an impressive array of well known retailers that include Marks and Spencer, as well as a smaller supermarkets and supply foodservice companies including the UK’s largest wholesale cash and carry operator.

As market leaders they expect their suppliers to be innovative, not only in the quality of food they produce but the variety of products they can offer.


Exciting New Product Development Kitchen

Elaine continues, “About five years ago, before the recession hit, we became aware that people were looking for an alternative to fillet steak so we started working on a gourmet burger range as a reasonable replacement. The onset of the recession reduced people’s spending power and, by the time that many meat producers and processors woke up to the changing demand, we had these new more value orientated products on the market. This has been one of our strengths – the ability to foresee changes in the market and to be able to react to them.

“This new facility, which is situated adjacent to our existing premises will greatly help us in our continual drive for innovation and in our push for new and improved products. At the heart of the new operation is a new product development kitchen where we create products to meet the changing needs of our customers. Here we take different flavour profiles, such as Moroccan and Mediterranean, and add them to our existing products. Then we bring in focus groups and get them to trial the new products. In this way we continue to grow the business and bolster our position as market leader within the meat processing industry.”

Another aspect of Linden’s product development has been Banquet Rosé Veal. Being acutely aware of the concerns that many people have about the currently available white veal, Linden looked towards developing ethically produced meat to the highest standards. Elaine continues “Rosé Veal is a lightly pink coloured meat, with a very delicate flavour and texture. We mature the meat to ensure that it tastes divine and melts in the mouth. The quality of this Rosé Veal is unsurpassed with excellent animal welfare at all stages.”

“We have established a successful Rosé veal market in Europe, and have developed a livestock system to produce calves suitable for these outlets. The calves are fed a special diet to produce a pink meat, and are slaughtered from 8 to 11 months of age. This is an extremely welfare friendly system that allows Holstein bull calves to be reared on specialist units in Northern Ireland rather than being exported to white veal systems in Europe.”

“Good rearing practices are of paramount importance to Banquet Royale Rosé Veal and all our farmers are carefully selected for their high levels of stockmanship. Our own welfare scheme, Linden Livestock, is a fully integrated welfare friendly supply chain system, which monitors the entire life of the calves. This has been very well received and is now selling well, for example in Marks & Spencer food departments. It is increasingly the preference of top chefs.”

“Of course Rosé Veal has specialised appeal at the moment especially when compared to our beef products but we hope to reap dividends down the line by being at the forefront of this development.

“This focus on quality, expertise and innovation has been the driving force of Linden Foods business and has brought us to where we are today.” Elaine concludes. “Now with our new £10 million factory we have fortified our strengths and are now primed to take advantage of other opportunities that exist within the meat processing sector.” She says.

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