Keelings is a 100% Irish-owned family business with its head office in FoodCentral, Co. Dublin. They are the largest soft fruit growers in Ireland with an annual turnover of around €330 million. They employ around 2,000 people.
Keelings started producing fruits and salads in the 1930’s, supplying produce to local Dublin markets. The company has expanded to its current size with 5 divisions – Keelings Retail, Keelings Fresh, Keelings Market, Keelings International and Keelings Solutions. It also has operations in the UK and Europe.
Highly-qualified horticulturalists work with Keelings, as do information technologists, supply chain and financial experts. Their customer base consists of wholesalers, retailers, caterers and processors, for whom they provide a daily chilled nationwide distribution service.
Keelings has revolutionised its growing process by investing in state of the art greenhouses, and they are now able to extend the Irish growing season through to December.
In 2009 a new 50,508 square metre state of the art strawberry glasshouse was constructed on their farm in County Dublin, resulting in the ability to produce over 100 million Irish strawberries for the Irish market.
Keelings were the first in Ireland to install CHP (Combined Heat and Power) fuelled by natural gas in their greenhouses. Combined Heat and Power, also known as cogeneration (cogen), is the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly process of using fuel to simultaneously produce electricity and heat.
The new system provides heat and CO2 to the greenhouse, while supplying electricity to Keelings’ sites and exporting surplus to the national grid. This helps mitigate some of the effects of high energy and carbon tax tariffs for Keelings and provides a reliable source of energy to local homes and businesses.
Their growing facilities employ the most environmentally advanced initiatives, including extensive use of recyclable growing mediums. They are constantly trying to develop more effective methods of biological crop control, which enables them to reduce reliance on chemical products year-on-year. Hives of bees are used to pollinate the plants and to reduce the use of pesticides. Insects which are natural predators of greenfly and other pests are released to roam.
You can view a Keelings Farm Tour here.
Keelings products include: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, Irish Eating Apples, Irish Bramley Apples, tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkin, potatoes, salads, flowers and exotics. The Keelings Brand is continually growing and new lines are regularly being added.
Keelings produce approximately 150 million strawberries each year, which accounts for 50% of all Irish-grown strawberries. They produce 100% table top strawberries using coconut coir – a renewable resource. This is a method of growing strawberries that limits the build-up of pests and diseases, thus ensuring the highest quality.
Keelings grow 500 linear kilometres of crop producing 2,500 tonnes of Irish berries between April and Mid December. They have a 5 hectare glasshouse, in addition to existing glass, tunnel and field crops.
They first planted apples in the early 1940s. They now grow over 4 million apples annually on 139 acres. The quantity produced covers year round supply of Irish Apples by using CO2 cold storage techniques.
Keelings have expanded their orchards to include cherries which are now grown on 2 hectares.
Keelings produce green, red, orange and yellow peppers in a specialized and dedicated glasshouse on 1.9 hectares. The pepper season runs from March through to November, producing over 500 tonnes annually.
Lettuce and pumpkin:
Keelings grow several different varieties of glasshouse and outdoor lettuce for the Irish market. Tastes are constantly developing, therefore new varieties are being introduced to take account of the customer’s desire for new flavours. They also grow around 100,000 pumpkins every year for the Irish market.
They also have purpose-built facilities to ripen produce to meet customers’ specific requirements. They ripen over 3 million bananas each week as well as other lines, such as peaches, pears, plums and avocados.
Risks and issues for the Irish fruit sector:
Brexit is a risk for exports from the Irish fruit sector. Keelings say they have put Brexit contingency plans in place.
Food safety is also an issue for the fresh produce sector. Contamination of produce with harmful microorganisms, chemicals and waste material such as plastic must be avoided. Manure deposited on land by livestock, wild animals, pests and domestic pets before and after a crop is sown can cause microbiological contamination. Fresh produce should not become contaminated with pesticide residues above the legal limits, and only pesticides authorised by the Pesticides Control Division of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine should be used. Use of all pesticides should be minimised where possible.