From pig farmers to supermarket giants – what the Heck?

09 January 2023

Isaac Green

Isaac Green

NFU Poultry Industry Programme 2022/23, Feed agent, Noble Foods, North East

An image of Isaac Green stood against a blank wall

The NFU PIP (Poultry Industry Programme) took a tour round the factory of popular sausage brand 'Heck' to learn how they built up their brand from the humble pork sausage to becoming a household name. 

Many, if not all readers will be familiar with the ‘Heck’ brand. Its bold packaging stands out on retail shelf space and they’re now firmly established as a product line that retailers can’t afford to leave out, such is its brand recognition.

The PIP (Poultry Industry Programme) – a scheme developed to help young people already in the industry broaden their skills – was fortunate enough to get a comprehensive presentation and factory tour from co-founder Andrew Keeble, and Commercial Director Jamie Keeble as they explained how they went from pig farming to launching the Heck business and getting their first break in 2012 as they landed on the shelves of Tesco.

During the next years they broke into all of the major retailers and, with some fun and progressive marketing, they began to establish their ‘brand’.

Sporting sausages on the football pitch

It’s likely you’ve seen them across adverts on social media, or through their first TV advert in 2020, or maybe even when they sponsored local football club Bedale AFC and designed a wacky sausage and egg kit, which generated global intrigue. They’ve since sponsored and designed kits each season, raising money for Prostate Cancer UK.

Heck also invests significant time and money at trade shows ranging from agricultural to fitness industry events; they attend and work 250-plus events annually to showcase their products and increase brand awareness, giving them great exposure to all demographics.

Seaweed solutions

There’s certainly a progressive and forward-thinking mentality at Heck. Their investment in production technology is a good example.

In 2019, they invested £1.1 million in the implementation of seaweed-based casing for the sausages. These are a cost-effective alternative and a natural collagen casing which is an environmentally-sustainable method as it is obtained from algae.

By adopting this technology, they were able to add a high degree of automation and efficiency to sausage production lines which has significantly reduced labour and production costs. VEMAG machinery and equipment was described to us as the Rolls Royce equivalent in the sausage-making world, and Heck helped develop the ground-breaking VEMAG seaweed-based production.

Such is the success of this technology it has now been rolled out globally!

Chicken Italia sausages come out on top

With bold graphics and innovation around how they make and present their products, sales surged and last year they surpassed net sales of £27.5m.

The Heck range goes far beyond just the humble pork sausage, in fact the Chicken Italia sausages are their best sellers. They also do beef burgers, chicken burgers, ‘flexi burgers’ (high veg content), meat-free products and everything in between.

While our industry faces continued price pressures at retail level, it becomes increasingly important to add value to what we’re selling. The Heck brand is something that after only 10 years trading carries weight, giving them great strength in commanding fair and profitable prices.

Behind the brand is a workplace in great health with a real team ethos. Their values and priorities stand strong and that’s clear to see from factory to management level.

On behalf of the NFU and PIP I’d like to thank Heck for their hospitality, insight and inspiration!

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