Since its creation in 2012 by Alanagh Chipperfield and her partner, former Ireland internationalist Ilse Van Staden, Ke Nako Biltong has grown into a market leader in the UK.
Alanagh spoke to The Logbook to explain more about the business’ beginnings some eight years ago, its growth and their plans for the future.
“Ilse is South African and biltong in South Africa is a staple, there’s no other way of describing it, in the same way here you have Starbucks on every corner, in South Africa there’s biltong shops on every corner, so it’s a huge part of the national diet.
“When Ilse got over here, we couldn’t find anyone in Ireland making Biltong and we could have bought it in from London, but instead we started making our own at home.
“We gravitated towards other South African people here and it culminated in us buying in a big drier in from South Africa in about 2013 and dehydrating properly.”
In the early days, making biltong was just a side for the couple, and it wasn’t until a conversation with Alanagh’s dad that they began to take things more seriously.
“The biltong was wiping its nose but it wasn’t really doing anything and we were putting a decent amount of time into it but not really getting anything back from it and it was my dad who said ‘what are you going to do about this?’.
“We decided we would keep at it and then we got an absolutely golden opportunity because the BBC were doing a show called Top of the Shop with Tom Kerridge – we entered and didn’t get selected but they had somebody drop out, so we were in.
“We were in a category – we were the meat week and everybody in the meat week competed against each other and then you went into a Grand Final against the winners from the other categories.”
Victory in that show has propelled the business to new levels, said Alanagh, who has also represented Ulster in her own rugby career.
She added: “We went from making 40kg of biltong every two weeks we suddenly had a nine-week waiting list for biltong and the biltong takes five days to make and we only had one box so can churn out 45kg a week, so that gives you an idea of how many orders we had.
“It just went mental.”
Where does all this happen? On a farm in Ballyclare, about 20 minutes from Belfast – in a converted shipping container, as Alanagh explained.
“It’s been making a little bit of profit each year but we’ve been putting that back into equipment and things,” she told SCRUM.
“We bought a second drying cabinet and we now work in a kitchen, we bought a shipping container and outfitted it as a kitchen, so that’s our biltong making factory.
“We’ve been going from strength to strength.” When the Coronavirus lockdown came into effect earlier this year, Alanagh and Ilse feared the worst for the business, with shows – including the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh – cancelled or postponed.
However, that has not been the case.
“We were booked in this summer to do the Royal Highland Show because we missed out on that last year, we were meant to be at London Borough Market, Balmoral Show and obviously that’s all been cancelled, so I was anticipating that this would be the end of us, but people have instead gone online and we haven’t stopped.
“It’s been mad, like the orders are nearly at the level they were when we’ve gone to a show though obviously we’re much better equipped to deal with it.”
Moving forward, they are looking to employ a member of staff to help out, and in the longer term, Alanagh would like to invest in a food truck to make their presence well and truly known at the shows they do attend in the future.
“You’ve got these taxis in South African and it’s an old former VW, their white taxis with the South African flag in ribbons down them, so we thought about doing one of those because it’s very typically South African.”
Alanagh explained that the inspiration for the name comes from Ilse’s homeland, where, in the Pretoria region she is from, Ke Nako translates to ‘it’s time’.
“We were going with this idea that it’s time for biltong and it’s time for biltong to become a thing over here,” she said.
And as the business continues to grow, an ever increasing number of people will have the name on their minds. That can, at times, provide some entertainment for the couple.
“It’s always good when you have someone phoning up for a sales pitch and they’re struggling to pronounce it,” Alanagh said.
For more information: www.kenakobiltong.co.uk