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Featured Business: Riverview Eggs
Name: DJ Kelleher, Managing Director, Riverview Eggs, a company that produces, packs and distributes eggs
Employees: 20 (the business also supports upwards of 50 people through the family farms that supply the company)
What comes first, the chicken or the egg? For the founders of Riverview Eggs in 1966, it was a loan from AIB’s predecessor, Munster & Leinster Bank, that enabled Dan Joe and Margaret Kelleher to set up the business to supplement their farm income.
The couple recognised the egg sector as something that would be commercially viable and, through sheer hard work and attention to quality, the business has grown steadily for over 45 years.
Riverview is still a family business, with DJ at the helm. After studying poultry, husbandry and management in Scotland, he came back to Ireland and completed a Certificate in Marketing by night in Cork, heading up the company while still in his mid-20s. In more recent years, he studied applied project management in university.
His sister, Mary, is the financial controller, while his brothers, Richard and Mortimer, are producers who supply the company with eggs.
Although the company is well established, DJ regards it as a growing entity. This is reflected by Kantar Market Research, which shows that the Riverview brand is growing in the Irish marketplace, and is now the second largest [egg] brand in Ireland. Bucking current trends, the growth is in the private-label area (the company supplies both private-label and branded eggs to various stores).
The brand's growth is a result of the company's focus on quality and training. DJ is on the committee for the creation of the Bord Bia egg quality assurance schemes, and Riverview was one of the first companies to achieve the Bord Bia EQAS standard. It then went for the GRC global food standard, under which it continues to retain its grade-A status.
Interview with DJ Kelleher
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
The egg sector was recognised as a strong commercial opportunity and a good supplement to the farm operation and income when my mum started it up.
What have been the highlights to date?
The development of Riverview into a national brand was a very big highlight for us. We’re now regarded as the second largest [egg] brand on the island of Ireland. Riverview is available through all major retailers – Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, Centra, Tesco and Londis – and we are a major supplier to the food services sector, e.g. Pallas Foods, for which we are sole supplier.
How did you initially fund your business?
Through Munster & Leinster. My mum and dad went into them and basically got a loan to kick off the egg section. They recognised that this was going to be an area where there would be growth. Since then, AIB has always been very much to the fore with the Kelleher family and Riverview in supporting any expansion and investment we’ve undertaken.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
We have expanded the range of products available to the consumer. Where we would have kicked off with a commercial egg, we now have commercial eggs, free-range eggs, enriched eggs, organic eggs. We would regard ourselves as being to the forefront in terms of introducing new products and promotional ranges to the consumer. That’s how our business has diversified – from sheer production to the marketing and development of products.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
Without sounding too clichéd, I do actually enjoy the cut and thrust of running a business. I enjoy the challenges we face every day of the week. I enjoy the leadership challenge and being able to shape the future of Riverview as we expand and grow.
I’m extremely proud of the operation we have, of our workforce and of what my parents created.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
When we were growing up on the farmyard at home, we had a very strong work ethic; there was no such thing as sitting in front of the telly. As children, if there was nothing to be done, the yard was there to be brushed. So, to be honest, it can be very hard to separate work from home life due to the fact that we are immersed in it, emotionally attached to it. In recent years, because we have such a strong team of people here at Riverview, I have been able to pull myself back somewhat, so that I have a greater separation of work and home life.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
On a local level, I am: Alf Smiddy, former CEO of Beamish and Crawford. He was only a few years older than me but always seemed to be rather successful in whatever he did. He is one person I would have admired from a business perspective. As it transpires, he’s now our Chairman. Ted Whittaker has also been a great role model and mentor to me all my life. My Mum is of course the real source of inspiration and drive!
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
I’m a member of the Bord Bia Brand Forum, which is the best thing I’ve ever invested in. You get market reports, advice on your category, advice on your products, and mentoring by product specialists. I also pay into Kantar Market Research, which tracks the consumer. I do a lot of going out to stores and meeting managers, as well as standing by the egg unit and talking to consumers to ask what they think of the egg, what product they prefer, what sizes they prefer. We would all love to believe that everybody wants a free-range egg but not everybody can afford it. Some 62-65% of consumers buy a commercial egg because it’s still an egg.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The constant challenge we face is the fact that it is such a competitive sector. The food market in Ireland is very concentrated. It’s divided up between four or five multiples that have massive power (about 85% of food sales in Ireland), whereas in the UK that wouldn’t exist.
From a financial perspective, the biggest challenge we had to face was the new EU cage regulations from 1st January 2012 whereby the conventional cage was banned across Europe. My two brothers invested just shy of €3 million in putting up these new colony systems. Courtesy of AIB, it all happened for us but it was based on our seriously good track record.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
Consumer confidence – or lack thereof. There’s such difficulty out there, and the Irish media are fuelling this negativity, to the point that people are afraid to do anything!
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
The part that I particularly enjoy is the marketing and promotion of the business. That’s the part I feel strongest at. That formal education in marketing and project management has allowed me to lead the business for today as well as the future.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
At 24-25 years of age I was at the helm of it all. It’s just seeing the business grow in the last 20 years under my stewardship. There’s been a lot of energy put into Riverview by my family before me, and by me. What’s most satisfying is when you’re in a supermarket and you see somebody with their trolley or basket and my brand of eggs inside. I get such satisfaction, I almost want to go over and say thank you, and I do sometimes!
What was the main catalyst for growth?
I can safely say it’s the fact that about six or seven years ago, through Skillnet, we invested heavily in upskilling all of our staff. Without that, we could not have seen growth. It allowed me to go out and promote Riverview as a highly accredited company to buyers in Dunnes, Musgrave, Tesco. That’s my tool for growth – getting the base right.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I’m a control freak. I love the leadership challenge. I have a good team behind me. I have a good right-hand man – John Benson – and my sister, Mary, is the best financial controller any company could have. We all work great together.
What’s your vision for the future?
I would like to see Riverview in a position where we could double the size of the business over the next five years without compromising our commitment to quality and service.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
The biggest obstacle in the past two years – it’s not just an Irish problem, it’s a global problem – is the increasing cost of animal feed products. That’s been a massive headache. We’ve seen the price of feed for the hen going up by about 100%. You’re doing a balancing act because the consumer is going through tough times and how do you do one without the other?
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
The Mammy! My mum, Margaret Kelleher, started the business. She went to an aunt of hers who was leaving her shares on her death. My mum asked if she could have them straight away because she wanted to start a family and a business. With that, she was able to get into Munster & Leinster. She had eight children. She has to be the greatest mentor. She had great “cop on”. From a formal business perspective, I would have had Ted Whittaker in Cork, and Alf Smiddy.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
It would be from my dad. His biggest thing when it came to staff and leadership would be: “Never ask a staff member to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself”.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
It’s from a book by Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
I always feel with people starting out in business or looking to grow the business is that they’re not looking at the big picture. It’s a big problem with a lot of people. They need to spend a bit of time on the commercial proposition from the outset to ensure it is actually sustainable. Know your product – know your market.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I don’t think I would do anything differently. I am happy with what we did – we focused on what we did best and didn’t get distracted from our key business goals. We stayed with what we knew.
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