Mr Keeble thinks it is more than just the food that is behind his formula for riding out the recession. With his range of sausages pitched between run-of-the-mill ranges and more costly cuts of meat, Mr Keeble is looking to pick up business from those downsizing from a steak as well as customers wanting to splash out on a sausage with a bit more bite than a bog-standard banger.
“We know shoppers are trading down from premium cuts of meat and are looking for alternative quality food. But there are others looking to trade up and buy a better sausage for their Saturday night,” he said.
“Sausages really aren’t that price sensitive,” he added. “We increased our price by 20pc overnight and as a result, saw sales increase by 30pc.” Today, Debbie & Andrew’s sausages sell for around £2.50 a pack, compared to around £1.80 for the popular brands. “We are the UK’s fastest-growing sausage brand,” Mr Keeble said. Debbie & Andrew’s saw its share of the premium sausage market grow in the last quarter of 2008 by 113pc.
The South Yorkshire based business last year sold £5.5m worth of pork sausages via Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Now, backed by a deal with Diageo to market a range of Guinness-branded pies and sausages, Mr Keeble is eying sales of £20m by 2012. “Every Guinness and steak pie sold in a pub will generate income,” he said. “It took two years for us to win that licensing agreement and we had some stiff competition. But Diageo thought our brand values fitted well with the Guinness brand.”
It’s those values, he said, that have underpinned the Keebles’ rapid rise since they started their business 10 years ago after two decades nurturing pigs. “Farming was on a road to nowhere,” he said. “We had no control over our destiny simply selling pigs.”
Having started production on the farmhouse table and selling locally via shows, Debbie & Andrews today has a staff of 35. The sausages are now made by Sheffield-based producer JJ Tranfield, a strategic partnership that has enabled the firm to become a UK brand. “To go from a regional to a national brand we needed to increase our manufacturing capability and so went in to partnership,” said managing director Keeble.
While the link was logistical, the raison d’être remains with the recipes. By sourcing all their own herbs and breadcrumbs, and adding a higher proportion of meat than mid range sausages, Debbie & Andrew’s are aimed at the expanding top end of the sausage buying spectrum.
“You have to know your customers and stick by your values,” he said. “You need to make sure customers come back and that means creating a brand they can trust. We carry out 1m tastings a year – talking to people and letting them try our product. We aim to increase that to 2m this year.”
Andrew Keeble was talking to Phil Smith – previously featured in The Telegraph Business Club