The Keelings Group have been growers at St. Margaret’s in north Co Dublin since the 1930s and these major players are among Ireland’s most forward-looking producers.
Still a family-run company after over seven decades, albeit a very large one now, Keelings are both growers and distributors; in recent years the company has greatly increased its protected crop production and brought large-scale commercial sweet pepper growing to the area (Keelings won an Irish Food Writers’ Guild Award for this initiative) and, through further investment in glass houses, they have also succeeded in extending the Irish strawberry harvesting season right through to December - both initiatives have dramatically reduced dependency on imports and brought employment to the area.
More recently - in March 2012 - Keelings harvested their first crop of Irish aubergines. Planted in December in their state-of-the-art glasshouses, the harvesting season runs from March through to the end of October, producing about 4 tonnes of Irish aubergines a week in high season.
Two varieties are grown and, as Irish aubergines are 2 days fresher than those coming in from Holland, they not only save food miles and support Irish jobs but mean fresher produce for consumers too.??
The range is constantly evolving and the company now grows a very wide variety of soft fruits, top fruits - notably Bramley apples and, from 2013, cherries - salad leaves and other vegetables for the Irish market and for fresh food markets all over Europe.
Look out for the ‘Keelings - Taste the Passion’ labels. Until recently, like most other Irish fruit and vegetables, Keelings produce was unbranded, or perhaps sold as supermarket own-brand. But since introducing the ‘Keelings - Taste the Passion’ branding, shoppers wanting to buy local produce have responded with enthusiasm. So, in St Margaret’s at least, fruit & veg is definitely not just a commodity any more.
Three members of the third generation of the family are now involved – Caroline Keeling is group managing director and brothers William and David are, respectively, MD of the UK and managing director of Farms.