Clonakilty Blackpudding Co

We couldn’t have a chapter on ‘success stories’ without including one of our own…

My first experience of Clonakilty Blackpudding, as for most Irish people, was as part of the obligatory full Irish breakfast at the weekend. However, other than enjoying the taste, I didn’t give the product or the company much thought. That is, until I recently heard its owner, Colette Twomey, give a keynote speech on the company and its history at a recent charity event. I found it to be a captivating story, from humble beginnings to where they are today.

After that event I researched the company and felt that the Clonakilty Blackpudding story would be a perfect fit for this book. I reached out to Colette Twomey, explained the premise of the book, and she graciously accepted my invitation for an interview. (I’m not sure if Steve Jobs would have been quite as accessible, had he been alive today.)

Throughout this story, you’ll notice that the evolution of the business is very much intertwined with the subject matter of this book, and there are a number of very important lessons that you can take away.

The story begins in the 1800s, in an Ireland far different to the one we live in today. The small farmhouses of rural Ireland would sell eggs, butter and other farm produce to the local butcher. To subsidise the modest income from those sales, they would produce their own black pudding.

One such farmhouse was that of Johanna O’Brien at Sam’s Cross, near Clonakilty, West Cork. She sold her black pudding to a local butcher, Philip Harrington, who would then sell it over the counter of his shop. In her later years, when she retired from the onerous task of making the black pudding, she passed the precious recipe onto Mr. Harrington. Little did they know, at the time, just how precious a commodity it would turn out to be. Incredibly, to this day, the recipe for Clonakilty Blackpudding has not changed from Johanna O’Brien’s recipe back in the 1800s.

Through Philip Harrington, the black pudding continued to sell locally, and was even sent overseas to emigrants who longed for a taste of home. The precious recipe was faithfully handed down through generations of Mr. Harrington’s family until the 1960s, when the business was sold to Patrick McSweeney, who in turn sold the shop and the unknown asset of the secret recipe to his nephew Edward Twomey for the princely sum of IR£18,000.

When I asked how he funded the venture, Colette (Edward’s wife) told me it was through an overdraft with their local bank. (She stressed the importance of having a good working relationship with your local bank – she remains with hers to this day – and also that when it came to investing, the Twomeys would “never go beyond what [they] could afford”. A motto they stick to steadfastly today.)

When Edward took over the business in 1976 he had no real interest in making the black pudding and found it more of a chore than anything else. He was far more interested in the meat side of the business, and even attempted to stop production of the black pudding at one stage. This decision did not go down well with his customers, and when Edward realised the demand he had no choice but to continue making black pudding.

It was now clear how popular the black pudding was. People would travel from all over Munster to buy it from his butcher shop. Pensioners using their free bus passes would travel to Clonakilty from Cork City and beyond to stock up on the pudding. It was through word of mouth, from these loyal customers, that Clonakilty Black pudding grew in popularity.

A quality product and great customer service will ensure that your customers continue to shop with you. They even become part of your marketing campaign – how about that for free advertising!

Realising the demand for the product, Edward began to understand the value of keeping the recipe a secret. For this reason, Edward and Colette were the only people to mix the spice.

As the customer base grew, the product continued to be sold over the counter of Edward Twomey’s butcher shop. It was at this point that the Twomeys realised they needed to put some form of marketing plan in place.