Debbie Keeble, 50, runs Heck! Food with her husband Andrew, 50, and their four children. They live in Bedale, North Yorkshire
We wanted to create a family business we could pass to our children
The first Heck sausages we ever made are hard to forget. It was the late ‘90s and, as farmers with four children under five, we needed some extra income. We raised pigs, so hit on the idea of making ‘posh’ sausages, and stayed up one night experimenting at our kitchen table.
Unfortunately, the results were horrible! We’d used dried herbs for flavour, but the sausages tasted bland. So we then tried adding fresh ingredients – leeks, apples, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and garlic. We also used pork shoulder, so they were leaner.
Our tasty sausages were an instant hit and, by 2005, we had an annual turnover of £2million. But I was worried. The bigger we became, the further we had to fall and I felt we needed someone to help our business keep growing.
So, we joined forces with another, larger sausage supplier. It was a good move, but in 2006, they were bought up by a huge Dutch company and we missed making our quality sausages in small batches, with a personal touch. It was a very tough decision to make, but we decided to stick to our values and, six years later, walked away with a payout.
We could have retired early with the money. But we loved what we did – and we were good at it. Our children had grown up with our sausages and we were determined to work together to create a family business we could eventually pass on to them. We had nothing – not a single piece of equipment – but we thought, ‘What the heck!’ and ploughed everything we had into starting again from scratch.
This time, thanks to our years of experience, we did several things differently. We weren’t afraid to shake things up by introducing other flavours such as chorizo, bright packaging and new products such as chicken sausages and square breakfast versions that fit neatly between two slices of toast. Having the children on board gave us fresh ideas – such as using social media to spread the word – and it’s also brought our family closer together.
That was 18 months ago, and now our Heck sausages are sold in Asda supermarkets nationwide, as well as through our website. We currently have a turnover of £8 million and we’ve set our sights even higher. We’re no longer afraid to make mistakes, because that’s how we learn.
Our experience has taught us that you have to be resilient and proud of what you do if you want to succeed. Most importantly, we’ve learned no-one else has a magic key they can give you – that’s something you have to find for yourself.’
Love Debbie and Andrew's story? Check out their website at heckfood.co.uk