“Pig farming was in the doldrums,” recalls Andrew Keeble, “It’s an intensive industry with very high input. We would have feed bills of £40,000 a month flying in, with negative margins. When you’re talking this level of risk from the outset, it’s very easy for the business to get derailed and into trouble.”
Near bankruptcy, the couple decided to diversify. They set their sights on sausage manufacture, but they didn’t want some cottage operation. They wanted a serious, large-scale set-up from the outset, aiming straight for the supermarkets.
But the bank refused to lend them any money. “When no one would lend us the cash to set up the factory and get going, we had to do it ourselves,” says Keeble. “We borrowed £45,000 on several credit cards and took a gamble.”
And what a gamble. Luckily, the punt paid off. They gave up pig-farming entirely, and, rather than processing whole pig carcasses, began buying in pork shoulders, the tastiest cut for sausages, thus streamlining the operation. “You have to be extremely polarised to deal with supermarkets,” says Keeble. “You can’t let anything shift your focus.”
Debbie & Andrew’s Sausages were soon listed in Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. And isn’t life funny” The first credit card the Keeble’s maxed out to get the business off the ground had been with Tesco.
Within a couple of years, the firm was turning over £2m. In 18 months, they’ll hit the big 10 with margins between ten and 20 per cent.
Looks like sausages aren’t so silly after all.