Tributes to ‘visionary’ Denis Lynn of Finnebrogue Artisan after quad bike accident

Renowned Co Down food company Finnebrogue Artisan has paid tribute to its “visionary” founder and chairman Denis Lynn after his tragic death in a quad bike accident.

In a statement today the Downpatrick company said it was “with deep sadness” that it announced his death.

“Our thoughts are with Denis’s wife Christine, his children Kerry, Clare, Tara and Ciara and the entire family at this incredibly difficult time,” it said.

“Denis was an innovator and a visionary with an infectious passion for delivering positive change for the planet and its people. He leaves behind an extraordinary list of achievements.

Denis Lynn, Chairman of renowned Downpatrick food company Finnebrogue Artisan. Photo by Aaron McCracken

“Denis also leaves behind Finnebrogue and a vision for its future. Finnebrogue was his creation. It now falls on all of us - the Finnebrogue family - to continue his outstanding work.”

The company confirmed that Mr Lynn died as a result of a quad bike accident at his home on the evening of Sunday May 2.

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Police said they attended a report of the sudden death of a man at Crossgar Road, Killyleagh just after 9pm yesterday evening and that the death is not being treated as suspicious.

HRH Prince of Wales samples some of the products from the Good Little Company along with Denis Lynn from Finnebrogue during a visit to the Downpatrick artisan company in 2019. Photo by Aaron McCracken

The company’s board of directors met today and non-executive director David Manning has been appointed interim-Chairman with immediate effect. Non-executive director Colin Walsh has been appointed interim deputy-chairman.

The senior management team will lead the business on a day-to-day basis.

The company has set up an email account, [email protected] for the public to send memories and condolences which will be compiled and published in due course.

“Denis was our founder, leader and inspiration. We will best honour his memory by invoking his passion for making food the best it can possibly be, without being bound by the way it’s always been done - and by trying every day to make the world a better place.”

Then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster with Denis Lynn, announcing that Finnebrogue in Downpatrick was creating 65 new jobs with help from from Invest Northern Ireland as part of a £3 million expansion in 2014.

Finnebrogue is one of the UK’s leading food producers. A family-owned business based in Northern Ireland, it made its name producing premium sausages for leading supermarkets, before launching its revolutionary Naked Bacon, made without nitrites in 2017.

The company employs 1000 people across four sites in Co Down, opening the doors to a new state of the art plant-based factory in 2020, the largest of its kind in Europe. It now produces 15 meat-free products under its own Naked brand, and supplies numerous own-brand products to leading UK supermarkets.

South Down MLA Jim Wells said the entire constituency was shocked to learn of the sudden death of Mr Lynn.

“He made a huge contribution to the economic life of the area,” Mr Wells added.

Ian Murphy of Invest NI presents Denis Lyn with the Food and Drink Award at the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards in 2015.

Former SDLP leader, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, also paid tribute.

Denis showed what hard work and determination can achieve,” she said. “My deepest sympathies to his widow and family who will feel his loss. His loss will also be felt by his many employees and colleagues who admired his entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. Denis Lynn developed world class products and new brands in the food processing industry such as the specialised bacon”.

South Down SDLP MLA Colin McGrath also expressed his shock on social media - and paid tribute to Mr Lynn’s contribution to the community.

“He was an entrepreneur who worked hard & delivered 100s of jobs to the Downpatrick area,” he said. “I worked with him in his recent expansion. He cared about our area & his charity work was understated and had impact especially in Africa.”

Local Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown said it was “devastating news” for anyone who knew Mr Lynn, who played “a major role in building and supporting the local economy”.

He added: “This was a tragic accident and one which has cruelly claimed the life of Dennis when he had so much more life to live. My thoughts are with his wife Christine and four daughters as they come to terms with what has happened and start to rebuild their lives in the coming weeks and months.”

Chef Paul Rankin (left) and Finnebrogue Artisan Chairman Denis Lynn (right) join Hans Sloane, the 17th Century Co Down-born inventor of milk chocolate, announcing Finnebrogue Artisan’s sponsorship of the 2016 Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Food Festival in Killyleagh. The festival featured 15 chocolatiers and nearly 40 local artisan food producers setting up camp at Killyleagh Castle for the weekend-long festival. Photo by Aaron McCracken, Harrison Photography.

A biography on the Finnebrogue website from last year told the story of how Mr Lynn left school at 15 and went on to make his company a nationally renowned brand.

He left school at 15 — but not by choice, the biography says.

He had worn the wrong-colour shoes and fallen out with his teachers. “I don’t think they could handle independent thinkers,” Mr Lynn said.

After being expelled from Sullivan Upper School, just outside his home city of Belfast, he worked as a salesman and a food distributor — but “from an early age, I thought working for myself was probably the right way to go”, said Mr Lynn, aged 62 last year.

He struck out on his own aged 27, buying processed food and selling it to cafes and restaurants and from that ‘acorn’ grew Finnebrogue Artisan, one of Northern Ireland’s biggest meat producers.

The company innovates by making bacon and sausages without using potentially carcinogenic preservatives called nitrites, and posted £5m in pre-tax profits on sales of £78m in the year ending September 2018.

When Mr Lynn, the son of a sugar broker, started selling pies and pizzas from a van in 1985, he had no idea it would turn into a business empire.

His breakthrough came in 1988 — with chips. He discovered a new method of making them, which involved partially cooking the potatoes in his factory before cooling them to 2C. Takeaways could fry them in just 90 seconds. “Phenomenal” growth followed and he became the No 1 chip supplier to the Irish market. He made enough money to buy the 600-acre Finnebrogue estate in Downpatrick, Co Down, and the city boy became a venison farmer.

He turned Finnebrogue into Britain’s biggest deer farm, supplying renowned chefs such as Heston Blumenthal. But the business was haemorrhaging cash: the £1.2m cost of building a venison-processing factory was double the projection, and Lynn was losing £200,000 a year. In 2006, his lender threatened to take over the site.

Necessity turned out to be the mother of invention, however, and the visionary entrepreneur expanded into upmarket pork sausages, winning customers such as Marks & Spencer and Asda.

His move into nitrite-free bacon was another boon; with the help of a scientist friend, Bernd Mense, he launched “naked bacon” in 2017 with The Sun newspaper hailing him as the man “saving our bacon”.

More recently he switched his attention to the environment with he Mense creating on a plant-based bacon “that actually tastes like bacon”.

He added: “I’d rather leave my grandkids a planet than millions of pounds”.

Aside from a small share- option scheme, Finnebrogue is owned by Mr Lynn.

The company now employs 1000 people at three factories, “which is good for a small wee town in Northern Ireland”.

Despite his success, he did not enjoy all aspects of running a company — especially the paperwork. “I can’t be arsed,” he said. “All I want to do is create.”

He lived in a barn on the Finnebrogue estate with his wife, Christine and their four daughters: Clare, Kerry, Tara and Ciara.

His advice to company founders was: “Be honest and passionate about what you’re doing. Then it’ll be fun.”

In October the company announced a £25 million plant-based food expansion – creating 300 new jobs in what it described as “Europe’s most advanced food factory”.

Environment Secretary George Eustice hailed Finnebrogue’s expansion as an incredible success story for the UK food industry.

“Finnebrogue is a great example of what our brilliant food industry has to offer,” he said. “The UK produces some of the finest food in the world – and our food heroes have done an incredible job of keeping the nation fed during these last few challenging months. I am very pleased that Finnebrogue’s brand new investment will provide a valuable boost to local employment opportunities in Northern Ireland, advancing the company’s ambition to create and promote fantastic and affordable UK food.”

Its turnover is projected to more than double from £100 million in 2020 to £220 million in 2023. An associated construction project saw it create a “gigantic” factory the size of three Premier League football pitches in just six months.

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