Jack Dyer, a chef, raised capital from private investors to start a beef company, but not your normal kind of butchery.
His target was premium beef that comes from only grass-fed cattle.
Six years later, Well Hung Butchery has become a household name in Kenya’s high-end restaurants and upmarket supermarkets.
And now the company is 100 per cent Kenyan-owned.
“When I came back to Kenya from Europe, I realised that the meat we were buying was not fantastic yet the animals that we were producing on the conservancy [Laikipia] were of amazing quality. There was a disconnect because of the meat we were buying versus the animals we were keeping,” he says.
Mr Dyer spotted a business opportunity in the beef supply chain. From a start-up, Well Hung Butchery has grown and now has 25 workers at its facility in Nanyuki and Nairobi, working in the butchery, marketing, merchandising and finance departments.
He has picked up lessons along the way, especially after the pandemic.
“We worked primarily with hotels, restaurants and catering companies, and canteens, but Covid-19 was a steep learning experience, which has forced us to diversify. Now and we have a balanced mixture of hotels and the formal retail sector,” he says.
The success of the meat business, he says, has been hinged on ensuring the cattle eat good grass, which translates to premium cuts.
“It all starts with the pasture. We specialise in grass-fed beef, and cattle raised in conservancies, ranches and farms across Laikipia. We operate a fully integrated supply chain allowing us to source the best naturally raised grass-fed beef and offer that product from the farm-to-table to our consumer,” he says.
This, says Mr Dyer, gives Well Hung Butchery a lot of added benefits like 100 per cent traceable beef.
Well Hung Butchery is also currently working on developing data systems to make this information available to its customers.
His focus is on Boran cattle, a Kenyan breed that has been improved in Laikipia over the last 80 years, developing lots of beneficial traits like drought and disease resistance.
“Recently, we’ve experienced drought and this breed can survive drought conditions, which has been helpful. They also have very high grass-to-fat and muscle mass conversion efficiency, which is good for meat flavour,” he says.
The other thing is having a good processing facility.
“We operate a modern facility and have tried to stay as close to our major production areas to minimise stress and be as gentle as possible to the animals,” he says.
Through the slaughter process, Well Hung Butchery is also conscious of animal welfare.
The butchery uses world-renowned systems to minimise distress to the animals.
They also age their prime beef in cold rooms for 28 days before selling.
This is done before cutting to increase the tenderness and meat flavour.
“When you age a beef carcass, you have 21 days of enzyme cell breakdown. The enzymes in the body will start to break down the meat cell structure making it tenderer,” explains Mr Dyer.
Animal muscles are held together by collagen whose molecular structure looks like a very tight coil.
Ageing unwinds the collagen and loosens the meat, making it tender as well as boosting its flavour.
After the slaughter, the carcasses are graded.
“We have developed our grading system, which helps us classify which market streams a carcass will go into. These grades are Commercial, Good Average Quality, Prime, and Prime A. Prices are based on grade, which reflects the achievable return for that grade as well,” he says.
Well Hung Butchery slaughters 120 animals per week.
Besides selling beef wholesale, they also offer value-added products such as cured meats such as dried chorizo, Kabanosy, bacon and pastrami, 11-hour smoked ribs, and smoked sausages both plain and cheesy.
“We are in the process of launching some exciting new products,” he says.
Mr Dyer says the Kenyan market is undersupplied in terms of beef and that it is sad because imports are high.
“There are lots of available market streams locally so I never really understand why we export then import beef from elsewhere to serve Kenyans,” he says.
Challenging supply chain
The CEO explains that the main challenge they have faced is scaling the business and increasing margins due to economies of scale.
“It has been very hard to secure consistent supply year-round of quality product as beef supply chain in Kenya is very unstable,” he says.
To navigate around that, they have been producing their beef and have recently integrated all their producers into the business and are now 100 per cent producer-owned, meaning the supply chain is now more secure.
He attributes Well Hung Butchery's success to working 24/7, adding that with a startup, one has to put in an unfathomable amount of work.
“It's extreme the hours and strain you have to put yourself through when running a startup and just never giving up but also ensuring you have faith in the product you're selling. If you start with quality and can demonstrate to the market that you have quality - that's what 99 per cent of consumers care about, and as long as we have that, we're on the path to success,” he says.