Connemara Seafoods won the overall award at yesterday’s Small Firms Association (SFA) National Small Business Awards *NSBA), which were held at the Mansion House in Dublin.
The presentation of the award was made by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, the patron on the awards, at a gala lunch in the Mansion House. This is the fifth year of the SFA NSBA, which are organised by the Small Firms Association.
"The scale of the economic challenges now facing us in Ireland is without precedent, with national income set to fall by upwards of 10pc over the 2008-2010 period,” the Taoiseach said.
Speaking about future Government plans, he said: “We are reforming and restructuring across the economy to ensure that we emerge well-placed to benefit from the global upturn, with a focus on innovation and R&D, green enterprise and energy efficiency and high-productivity employment. Future growth will be led by exports based on competitive strengths in these areas. The SFA National Small Business Awards provide further evidence that we have people with the drive and skills to meet current economic challenges with confidence.”
Announcing the winner, Connemara Seafoods, Dr Aidan O’Boyle, SFA Chairman and Chair of the Judging Panel, said: “This is a great example of a food manufacturing company, focused on export and with a real commitment to R&D. This is what winning companies are made of, and Connemara Seafoods will be an inspiration to all small companies out there with a similar ethos.”
Awards were also presented to seven category winners (see below). The awards are sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, FÁS, Sustainable Energy Ireland, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland and the County and City Enterprise Boards.
“This is a day for the small business sector to show pride in the companies joining us here, who have shown the way in which success can be achieved by good planning and dedication,” Dr O’Boyle said.
“I have no doubt that many of the companies here today are experiencing difficult times, but you exemplify the key attributes underpinning your success, which are passion, drive and, most importantly, optimism. With the right support, businesses with such passion, drive and optimism will be the ones to lead us forward out of this recession.”
The finalists in this year’s awards came from a wide variety of backgrounds and sectors. The other winners of the seven categories in the awards were as follows:
Food & Drink: Connemara Seafoods
Outstanding Small Business: Home Instead
Best in HR: Kevin Dempsey Distributors
Environmental Sustainability: Java Republic
Having invested heavily in new processing technologies, Connemara Seafoods has been broadening its product portfolio and winning new export markets.
Increasing its workforce from 30 to 40 last year, Connemara Seafoods operates from a 60,000 sq ft production facility. A unique aspect of the company is that 100pc of its output is exported to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Germany and Scandinavia, and it recently tested new markets in the east — Japan in particular.
Director Ann Marie Mulloy describes the company’s outlook as follows: “The Mulloy family has roots here pre-dating the famine. Connemara Seafoods combines the highest values of family, the community spirit of neighbours and the harnessing of the primary natural-food resources of the ocean.
“In Ireland, there are very few coastal communities that are as vibrant, and even fewer that have an integrated network of a shellfish processing company, giving sustainable employment and supporting a thriving downstream supply chain of fishermen, shore harvesters, truckers, engineers and many more.”
Mulloy said Connemara Seafoods “embraces the tough, uncompromising competition of this global marketplace, and willingly overcomes the physical obstacles that to others are barriers to entry in fresh, frozen and chilled shellfish exports.”
In response to global economic challenges, Connemara Seafoods reacted fast, with a wider portfolio of products. “New crab products were introduced with the first full year in production in 2008, and further improvements in our individually quick frozen [IQF] range were made following a multimillion euro investment in new processing technologies,” Mulloy said.
“The wider portfolio has strengthened our position with our wholesale/food service customers. We are continuing to leverage that network by adding new products and new species each year.”
R&D is critical to Connemara Seafoods’ export endeavours, as it strategically moves from commoditised to higher value-added products.
“Management believes in shoe-leather marketing; seeing what’s happening on the ground. Together with ongoing desk-based R&D in the food industry, customers, management and employees feed the R&D trough. Ideas are generated, R&D strategies emerge, projects are initiated and new products and production technologies to make them are developed,” Mulloy explained.
“Our R&D structures are upgrading to ensure we are in sync with the market and producing products that meet emerging, growing or stable demand. The products may demand new taste, new presentation, new ways of producing to increase shelf life or output, or better quality in new price points to be more competitive.”
A range of three ready meals in sauces was successful in retail in France, while specific products were produced that won contracts in 2007 in retail and cash and carry in Germany. That has continued in 2008, with new ranges in crab, crab claws, IQF mussels; and improvements in whole-shell, vacuum-packed mussels, mussels in varieties of sauces, half-shell oysters and clams.
“Currently, new innovative ideas are undergoing feasibility, and project stages are expected to deliver products that will lay the foundation for the years ahead, focused on high value-add ingredients and flavours," Mulloy said.
Connemara Seafoods implements an upskilling programme each year across the full spectrum of management and staff. Programmes for management include those from the Irish Management Institute and various third-level institutions, while staff upskilling happens in areas such as quality management, information technology, production management, team building and R&D.
“The investments in ongoing education and upskilling have made a huge contribution to the growth and profitability of the company. Each year, the programme is reviewed to tie in with the business plan and meet its needs.
“There is a vibrant culture of driving costs out of the business, developing the best products, doing everything possible to build competitive advantages in product, price and customer responsiveness. Our increased sales in 2008 reflect that,” Molloy affirmed.
For more information on the award winners, keep an eye on our special SFA NSBA page, which will feature profiles and video interviews with the winners.