Family-owned Doherty Meats has a ‘special’ place in Derry’s food story

Matt, Seamus and James Doherty, 5th and 6th generation of the family business.

Matt, Seamus and James Doherty, 5th and 6th generation of the family business.

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Doherty Meats may be spicing up its new product range in line with consumer demand but there will always be something ‘special’ about its best known brand.

Beloved of the legendary Derry ‘stews,’ Doherty’s Special Mince is such a part of the city’s culinary psyche that locals have even been known to pack it into their suitcases when heading away from home!

Dohertys famous sausages on the production line at its Pennyburn HQ.

Dohertys famous sausages on the production line at its Pennyburn HQ.

Established since 1830, Doherty’s employ 40 staff at its production unit in Pennyburn and its ground beef and pork products are sold in hundreds of food retail outlets in NI, Republic of Ireland and Britain.

Seamus Doherty, Managing Director, who oversees the business with his brother, Ian, is backing ‘Love NI Meat,’ Tourism NI’s dedicated theme for August as part of the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016 calendar.

Seamus, whose sons James and Matt have also joined the family firm, said: “I think it is very important to focus on home-based foodstuffs. In our experience, meat is as popular now as ever. Tradition is very important to us and people have a loyalty to the long standing familiar brand.”

186 years after the company was founded, Doherty’s sausages and mince are still a mainstay on the weekly shopping list for families across the north west and further afield.

Dohertys special mince in production.

Dohertys special mince in production.

It won Gold and Silver for its gluten-free burgers and sausages in this year’s inaugural Free From Food Awards held in Dublin.

With its origins in retail butchery dating back to the early 19th Century, Doherty’s beef hamburger meat was first produced at the back of the butcher’s shop in Waterloo Street shortly after the Second World War.

Asked what he believes makes its highly versatile mince so popular, Seamus Doherty answered: “We like to think it has a unique flavour and texture; that it’s good value and that it’s consistent.

“We probably sell more sausages, but it’s a very strong brand which commands a fair bit of loyalty. We take a lot of care as we do with all our manufacturing operations.”

Recalling stories from yesteryear, of Derry folk stocking up on their Doherty’s sausages and mince while home on holidays to take back with them overseas, Seamus added: “When I was a teenager, I remember hearing one story about a woman heading to Canada with a suitcase full of special mince. When she got to the other side, the Customs man asked her to open it and said, ‘What’s that?’ She looked at him and said: ‘That’s special!”

When it comes to the recipe for the success of one of Ireland’s oldest meat processors, Seamus cites the “commitment of family and staff; attention to detail at all times and determination to produce wholesome, safe and legal products of consistent high quality.”

Seamus Doherty also cites the influence of his sons - the sixth generation of the family - for bringing new and innovative ideas to the firm through ongoing research and development.

He continued: “The single biggest challenge for our business has been the changing pattern in retailing with the rise of the multiples and discounters. We like to think we have a good, broad customer base that covers both the independent grocery sector and the multiples sector.

“There is a lot of competition; it was easier for us a few generations ago when there was not such a variety of options for the customer. We remain a small entity among all the giants stalking the business world but, so far, we seem to manage and long may it last!”

Mary Blake, Tourism Development Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council which is actively supporting NI Year of Food and Drink 2016 through a range of initiatives and events, paid tribute to the valuable role played by Doherty Meats in the city’s LegenDerry food story.

“Doherty Meats is a local institution held in deep affection by families across the NW and further afield. Doherty’s sausages and mince are synonymous with tradition and nostalgia, they remind us of home and our wider international food offer that is ‘LegenDerry and Local’.”