22 October 1999

FIRM WONT DUCK THE QUALITY ISSUE

When it comes to business

it helps to sell something

you believe in. Tessa Gates

met a man who developed

strains of duck and chicken

to suit his personal tastes

and found others wanted to

eat them too

BARRY Clarks business was founded on a strain of ducks he bred himself. In fact he did everything from rearing, processing and marketing to delivering to customers when he started in 1991. Today he sells a wider range of foods and employs 14 people but while his work load has changed rather than lessened, the ethos of the business – providing quality foods for discerning customers – has not altered.

"Duck is still our biggest seller," says Barry, who developed the Trelough duck, a lean well-breasted bird with blood lines based on the Rouen – a large Normandy duck – crossed with various faster maturing domestic breeds. He keeps a nucleus breeding flock at his Herefordshire home at Wormbridge Court Farm, Wormbridge, but the "tens of thousands" that he now sells are reared for him on contract. All are fed on an additive free diet.

He developed the duck initially because he wanted a duck for his own consumption that had all the flavour of ducks he had enjoyed in France, with plenty of breast meat but with less fat. He achieved this with the Trelough and the birds are best suited to serving "pink" rather than well-done.

In recognition of the qualities of the Trelough, Barry and his company, English Natural Foods were nominated by the international organisation Les Canardiers as Mâitre Canardier Eleveur (Master Duck Breeder) and he was presented with a ribbon and medal of office at a grand banquet in London. Until 1995 there were only two other members in this category in the world and Barry became the third.

Having successfully bred a duck to his taste, Barry went on to develop the Devereux chicken. Firm fleshed and succulent, the birds are raised free-range and allowed to mature to 12 weeks. Guinea fowl and game have also been added to his product line and value added by taking some of the meats a step further such as Confit of duck – legs cooked in refined white duck fat and packed in Kilner-type glass jars for retailing to the public (£7 to £21/jar) and in vacuum packs for the restaurant trade. Cassoulet – sausages, duck legs and haricot beans – is another line soon to be available and that too will be ready to eat following heating. Hand-made sausages, oak-smoked duck breasts and duck livers from his own birds are produced in Hereford and selected imported speciality hams, sausages and sea salts complete the range.

"Our added value products are difficult to cost – how much of your overheads do you try to recover? You can carve a niche in specialist areas but it is difficult to get the margins you need. People perceive your product as expensive and think you must be making a good living out of it," says Barry.

&#42 Mail order

The company supplies trade and private customers and has a mail order service and a web site www.englishnaturalfoods.co.uk, which was set up by a team of five 13 to 14-year-old pupils from Fairfield High School, Peterchurch, Hereford. "They were very keen on the project and did a really good job," he enthuses. But despite these high tech links, most recently he has regularly met his customers in the way farmers have for centuries, face to face across a market stall.

Every third Saturday of the month he can be found selling his wares at Borough Market, London Bridge. This farmers market is very good for trade. "It is lovely to meet people and hear how they enjoy our products," says Barry, who has no such local venue. "The feedback is very useful.

"However, the market has been almost too successful as now they want to hold one every week and that is a strain on my time. I might have to get someone to run the stall for me."

The company has come a long way since Barry started it as a "one man band" in 1991. "And if you had said that in eight years time I would also have been running a market stall I wouldnt have believed you," he says. By the same token how many of his customers would have expected to place an order by e-mail?

Inquiries: English Natural Foods 01981-570767.