football special

Reviving Tradition: McDaid's Football Special's Bold Journey

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Updated on March 20, 2024

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Bouncing back from the brinks of obscurity, McDaid’s Football Special demonstrates a daring defiance in the face of a fiercely competitive soft drinks industry. Their fascinating transformation from a regional alcohol wholesaler to a creator of quirky, signature soft drinks provides a compelling narrative of adaptability and innovation.

By infusing traditional recipes with new flavors and expanding their market reach, they’ve managed to stay relevant and thrive. But how does a small, family-owned company navigate the treacherous waters of an industry dominated by giants, continue to captivate consumers, and remain committed to sustainability?

This is the captivating tale of McDaid’s audacious journey.

Origins of MCD Soft Drinks


MCD Soft Drinks, originally a family-run business, made a name for itself through its iconic offerings like Football Special and Ice Cream Soda. This family legacy, characterized by a commitment to quality and innovation, continues to shape the company’s direction even today.

Their iconic beverages, born out of a desire to set themselves apart in a competitive industry, quickly gained popularity. These drinks, with their unique flavors and memorable branding, carved out a distinct space in the hearts of their consumers.

The family’s determination to stay true to their roots, while embracing change and innovation, has allowed MCD Soft Drinks to expand and adapt over the years. Even as they navigate the evolving beverage landscape, their commitment to their family legacy remains a guiding light.

Transition to Soft Drinks

Embracing a bold new vision, the company decided to move away from alcohol wholesaling to concentrate on developing and promoting their own unique line of soft drinks. The soft drink evolution saw McDaid’s creating a distinct identity through innovative flavors and distinctive brand elements.

The brand differentiation was achieved by leveraging the company’s legacy and creating a niche within the crowded soft drink market. McDaid’s focused on the quality and uniqueness of their product line, which included the popular Football Special. They also sought to connect with their audience by evoking a sense of nostalgia and regional pride.

This strategic transition to soft drinks allowed the company to carve out a significant presence in the beverage industry while staying true to its roots.

Lessons From Wholesaling

football special

While the shift to soft drinks marked a new era for the company, the experience they gathered from their time as an alcohol wholesaler proved instrumental in shaping their business strategy and understanding of the beverage industry.

The lessons learned from their wholesaling days offered insight into distribution challenges, including securing shelf space and dealing with larger, established industry players. They learned to leverage their brand credibility, ensuring listings in new shops and creating strong relationships with buyers.

These experiences have helped McDaid’s navigate the complex landscape of the beverage market, taking their iconic Football Special to new heights. Their journey underscores the value of past experiences in guiding a company’s growth and evolution, even when the business model shifts dramatically.

Future Plans for MCD

Looking ahead, the family-owned business has ambitious plans to strengthen its brand and explore potential international expansion. Leveraging their heritage, MCD is set to employ innovative rebranding strategies to resonate with a broader audience, while not losing their loyal customer base.

They plan to harness the power of their iconic products, such as the Football Special, to reinforce their brand identity. International growth opportunities are also on the horizon as MCD eyes potential markets overseas.

These plans, however, require careful consideration of cultural tastes and preferences in order to adapt their flavors accordingly. The goal is to transform MCD from a local favorite into a global contender, without losing the essence of what makes their soft drinks truly special.

Innovations in Football Special

football special

In their quest for continuous improvement, MCD has innovatively revamped the Football Special, introducing new flavors like banana, pineapple, and orange cream to their iconic drink. These flavor innovations haven’t only refreshed the brand but also intrigued the taste buds of loyal customers.

MCD’s brand collaborations have also played a pivotal role in this revamp, allowing them to experiment with unique taste profiles and broaden their market reach. Beyond taste, MCD has made significant strides in packaging sustainability. They’ve launched an initiative for returnable bottles, reducing their carbon footprint and reinforcing their commitment to the environment.

With these strategic moves, MCD isn’t only preserving tradition but also leading the way in the soft drink industry’s future.

Craft Soda Market Venture

Branching out into the craft soda market, MCD has started to make its mark in the US, offering a unique blend of traditional and innovative flavors. Through craft soda collaborations, they’ve been able to experiment with unique flavors, creating an exciting fusion of the old and new.

This venture hasn’t only allowed MCD to tap into the growing popularity of craft sodas but also to showcase their creativity and commitment to quality. The company’s bold approach to flavor experimentation has set them apart, appealing to consumers’ increasing desire for unique, artisanal beverages.

MCD’s foray into the craft soda market signals a promising new chapter in their journey, one marked by innovation and a deep respect for tradition.

Ice Cream Production Venture

football special

Not content with just making their mark in the craft soda industry, MCD has also ventured into ice cream production, adding another feather to their cap of innovative product offerings. This ice cream expansion symbolizes MCD’s commitment to product diversification, a move that not only broadens their portfolio but boosts their competitive edge.

The company’s strategy involves infusing their iconic soda flavors into the ice cream, creating a unique aspect to their product line. This innovation not only enhances brand identity but also offers consumers a novel tasting experience. As MCD capitalizes on their established brand, they continue to showcase their knack for creativity and their dedication to satisfying evolving consumer tastes.

This venture into ice cream production is a testament to their nimble adaptability and strategic diversification.

Overcoming Distribution Challenges

Navigating the complex landscape of product distribution, MCD has faced numerous hurdles, particularly in securing shelf space in national chains. These challenges have stemmed from larger competitors dominating the market, as well as the stringent requirements of retail giants.

Yet, MCD’s resilience has shone through, finding solutions through innovative approaches. They’ve leveraged their brand’s credibility, connecting directly with buyers to highlight their unique offerings. The company has also adapted to meet the demands of retailers, ensuring their products align with market trends.

These strategies have catalyzed MCD’s growth, carving out a niche for their craft sodas amidst the industry behemoths. Overcoming distribution challenges, MCD has proven that a blend of innovation, resilience, and market understanding are key to ensuring the product reaches consumers.

Strategies for Market Expansion

football special

Building on their success in overcoming distribution hurdles, MCD is now focusing on broadening their market reach with strategic expansion initiatives. A key aspect of their strategy is global expansion, which they aim to achieve through the identification of potential markets and the formation of strategic alliances.

They’re targeting regions with a high demand for craft sodas, leveraging their unique product offerings to differentiate themselves from competitors. Another crucial part of their expansion plan involves brand partnerships. By collaborating with local and international brands, MCD hopes to increase product visibility and gain access to new customer bases.

These partnerships not only help in market penetration but also in strengthening the brand’s reputation globally. MCD’s strategic approach to expansion promises a bold journey ahead for this traditional brand.

E-commerce Success and Impact

Evolving with the digital era, MCD has successfully ventured into e-commerce, leveraging direct-to-consumer sales and significantly enhancing their market reach. This strategic move has triggered exponential e-commerce growth, enabling the brand to tap into new markets and customer bases.

The digital platform hasn’t only boosted sales but also provided valuable customer insights, shaping future offerings and strategies. Moreover, MCD’s transition to e-commerce reflects their sustainability initiatives, reducing carbon footprint through streamlined logistics and delivery processes.

The shift also facilitates a more personalized customer experience, fostering loyalty and repeat business. In essence, MCD’s e-commerce success underscores the power of digital transformation in reviving traditional brands, fueling growth, and promoting sustainable practices.

Post-Pandemic Online Strategies

As the world emerges from the throes of the pandemic, MCD is doubling down on its online strategies to sustain the surge in e-commerce growth and continue appealing to its digitally savvy consumers. With an online marketing plan that’s both robust and dynamic, they’re innovating ways to enhance customer engagement.

They’re employing targeted campaigns, employing data-driven insights to tailor their offerings to customer preferences. They’re also simplifying the online sales process, making it easier for consumers to purchase their favourite drinks with a few clicks.

Moreover, they’re exploring opportunities to expand into new markets, using their e-commerce platform as a springboard. These strategies not only bolster MCD’s digital presence but also promise to propel the brand forward in the post-pandemic world.

Sustainable Practices at MCD

In the midst of their digital growth, MCD hasn’t lost sight of their commitment to sustainable practices, prioritizing environmentally-friendly initiatives as a key part of their brand identity. The company’s focus remains firmly on their eco-conscious strategies, one of which includes the use of returnable glass bottles for their range of craft soft drinks. They’ve also explored the idea of a loyalty program for bottle returns, incentivizing customers to engage in their sustainability efforts.

MCD’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t end there. They’re considering phasing out plastic bottles completely, which would drastically reduce their environmental footprint. The company’s dedication to such practices not only reflects their ethos but also positions them uniquely in the market, resonating with eco-aware consumers.

Future Market Positioning

MCD’s ambitious plans for the future involve a targeted approach to market positioning, with the brand seeking to carve out a distinct niche in the craft soft drinks sector. Their strategy hinges on sustainable branding, a concept they’re championing by using returnable glass bottles and reducing plastic waste. This not only aligns with global eco-friendly trends but also sets them apart in a saturated market.

As part of their global expansion plan, MCD is venturing into new territories, leveraging their strong Irish heritage as the backbone of their international narrative. The goal is to appeal to consumers’ love for artisanal, authentic beverages. Strong e-commerce capabilities further support these plans, as direct-to-consumer sales allow MCD to reach a global audience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Was the Initial Reception to MCD Soft Drinks’ Transition From Alcohol Wholesaling to Soft Drinks?

When McD’s switched from alcohol wholesaling to soft drinks, they faced initial challenges. The market didn’t immediately warm to the transition, causing a momentary business hiccup.

However, the impact of the shift grew over time, as they honed their branding and marketing strategies, carving out a unique place in the beverage industry.

Now, they’re known for their iconic drinks like the Football Special, demonstrating their successful evolution.

How Has MCD Soft Drinks’ Family Business Roots Influenced Its Approach to Product Development and Branding?

The family roots of McDaid’s Soft Drinks heavily influence its approach to product development and branding. They’ve maintained a strong emphasis on ‘Heritage Branding’, ensuring their products reflect their family’s legacy.

This ‘Family Influence’ has led to unique, quality drinks, like their renowned Football Special. While they’re open to innovation, they always stay true to their roots, keeping their family’s tradition alive in each bottle.

It’s a strategy that sets them apart in the crowded soft drink market.

How Does MCD Soft Drinks Plan to Integrate Its Sustainable Practices Into Its Future Branding and Marketing Strategies?

McDaid’s Soft Drinks intends to embed sustainability into its future branding and marketing strategies. They’re focusing on eco-friendly packaging, specifically glass bottles, to lessen their environmental impact.

They’re also considering a bottle return scheme, promoting reuse and recycling. These sustainable practices not only align with global trends but also help differentiate McDaid’s from mainstream soft drink brands.

It’s a clever move that marries tradition with progressive environmental values.

Could You Elaborate on MCD Soft Drinks’ Plans to Reevaluate International Expansion and What Markets It Is Considering?

McDaid’s is reassessing its international expansion, focusing on overcoming expansion challenges such as distribution and competitive markets. They’re conducting thorough market analysis to identify potential areas for growth.

Although specific markets haven’t been disclosed, they’re likely considering regions with a strong demand for craft sodas. McDaid’s is keen on leveraging their distinct brand and quality products to carve a niche in the global soft drinks industry.

How Does MCD Soft Drinks Intend to Differentiate Itself From Larger Soft Drink Companies in the Face of Retail Giants’ Requirements?

McDaid’s plans to stand out from larger soda companies through unique flavors exploration and customer engagement strategies. They’re creating distinctive, regional flavors, connecting directly with their consumer base.

They’re not just selling soda, but a unique experience tied to their Irish roots. By focusing on niche markets, McDaid’s sidesteps the competition with retail giants, offering an alternative to mainstream brands.

They’re leveraging their brand’s heritage and regional loyalty, making them a strong contender in the craft soda market.


McDaid’s Football Special exemplifies audacious evolution, from a regional alcohol wholesaler to a soft drink trailblazer. Its innovative approach, marked by unique flavors and strategic e-commerce practices, demonstrates a robust commitment to growth.

Moreover, McDaid’s focus on sustainability underscores its alignment with modern trends. This narrative of tradition, innovation, and sustainability underscores the company’s dynamic growth.

Truly, McDaid’s journey is a testament to the power of tenacity and adaptability in a competitive industry.

Video Transcript

Speaker 2 (00:04)
So welcome to Amazing Food and Drink. Today, I am very excited to have along with me today, Seamus McDade, Managing Director of McDade Soft Drinks. How are you doing, Seamus?

Speaker 1 (00:18)
I’m very well. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 (00:20)
Oh, you’re so welcome. I’m extremely excited. I was just chatting before we started, and I was just remarking on it. It’s so nostalgic to have a look at some of your drinks here because it brings me back to my childhood in Donegal with the football special, the very famous football special. We have the ice cream soda. And my new favourite, Seamus, I have to say, is the banana drink. Also the orange cream is gorgeous, too. I have to add that in.

Speaker 1 (00:49)
Well, the banana, of course, we grow them in our secret plantations in Donegal. I knew that.

Speaker 2 (00:56)
It’s just outside of Melton. It is.

Speaker 1 (00:59)
You have to be a local We’re able to get there. We keep that. The tourists are all out in there.

Speaker 2 (01:03)
Absolutely brilliant. Well, Seamus, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Speaker 1 (01:07)
So I’m the fourth generation of the Mcdead family to be involved in the family business. The business was set up by my great grandfather and took over by my grandfather, my dad, and now me. For the last 10 years, I was a wanderless 20-year-old. So I had another career as a sports agent. I moved to Australia, and then I moved to New York. And while in my time in New York, I set up Mcdade’s Beverages USA, which was our export arm, and we catered to the Irish-American community. We sold Football Special at all our brand, all our drinks, and then we were a full-service Irish importer. So we did Teto and Lion’s Tea and Barry’s Tea and all of that. And that was for the whole Eastern corridor in the United States, from Boston to Philadelphia. Amazing. So I moved home last year, dragged my fiancée with me. She She’s a native Newyorker, and now she’s getting to enjoy a proper summer. So we relocated back here in the start of 2019. My dad was… My dad would not like me to say he was getting on, but he was getting close to retirement age.

Speaker 1 (02:22)
So we put him out to pasture, and then I got into the hot seat then.

Speaker 2 (02:27)
The truth of the matter is, he probably put himself out to pasture Yes.

Speaker 1 (02:30)
He was very… What’s the opposite of reluctant? Because that’s what he was. He was skipping out the door.

Speaker 2 (02:40)
Absolutely brilliant. And so is the American arm still going?

Speaker 1 (02:45)
Yeah. No, it has been scaled back because of COVID this year and the challenges that we have trying to run an international business has been with that, a small international business. But one of the things that we did keep is the new glass bottle, the old new glass bottle line that we have, that’s manufactured in America. The reality of trying to produce a small glass bottle to our spec and our formula, there’s nobody on the island of Ireland who would do that. And when I was in the United States, I was able to source a manufacturer there, and I’ve continued that. So they manufacture it through our recipe and with our ingredients, and then they ship it back. So that’s kept our American arm going. But the full service wholesale part has taken a bit of a downturn this year. It’s going to be put on the back burner as well. So it’s something we may look at again in the future. But for now, we just focus on our own brands there.

Speaker 2 (03:41)
Perfect. And for the uninitiated, I am obviously a convert to the McDade family business. But tell me, for anyone who might be aware, what is Football Special and what’s the McDade brand? Tell me all about it.

Speaker 1 (03:55)
So Football Special is a mixed flavour soft drink. So it’s a mixture of seven different their flavours mixed together. And how it originated was we were a… My great grandfather was a shopkeeper, and he then started the wholesale shop products. My grandfather separately inherited a pub, and he started to work in the pub, and he understood the pub trade. So the family business became a wholesaler to shops and to pubs. At that time, the way that Guinness distributed throughout Ireland, this is the 1940s, ’50s, was they had satellite bottlers. In a modern term, we call satellite bottlers. So they had bottlers all over the country who bottled Guinness. So they made it in St. James’s Gate, and then they sent that to their bottlers throughout the country. So we were one of their bottlers for Dunagal. So we bottled the Guinness on the quay in Remelton. If anybody, people will be familiar with the drink football special sign. That was the original building where we bottled Guinness. And the reality of being in the alcohol business or in the drinks business in Dunagal was that you were always going to have a quiet wintertime. So in the wintertime, my grandfather and his brothers experimented with different flavours, and they ended up coming up with this concoction football special.

Speaker 1 (05:18)
They were also involved in the local football team, Silly Rovers. Silly Rovers were a very successful soccer team in the ’50s and ’60s. So they wanted to invent a product that they could put in the trophy and fill the cup with that looked alcoholic that wasn’t alcoholic. So the football special, which has a foamy head and looks like a pint of smithicks. That’s where that came from. That was the angle. It was to try and cater to an adult audience. And that is how it spun out. So in the early days of the business, we would have done a cola and done an orange and done various different things. But it was pre the bigger branded products arriving into Ireland or certainly having national provenance. From the ’80s onwards, really football special and banana and the more off mainstream flavours of what sustained us. That’s really how we got in. We fell into the soft drinks business coming from an alcohol side. The alcohol business has gone by the wayside now. We focus just on our own soft drinks.

Speaker 2 (06:28)
Brilliant. You have no pub as Not at all, whatsoever, no.

Speaker 1 (06:31)
No, we got out of that business. What we found was the independent wholesaler in that business was getting more and more squeezed. This is in more recent times. So we decided, let’s get out of this business. Ultimately, you’re just a transport company for Guinness or for Harbour, for anybody. You’re just going to be a transport company for them. And it was a good lesson. It was a lesson I learned in my business in America, too. Being a wholesaler for somebody is difficult when you’re not the brand owner because you’re always at the mercy of somebody else’s product. So we decided that, no, we got out of the alcohol business. We sold off that business. And then we just focused our efforts on our own soft drinks. One of the reasons that the alcohol wholesale business was always the bigger arm of our company. And that is what held back our own branded products in many ways, because that was the bread and butter of the business. And that’s what paid the bills. And that’s what everybody spent all their energy in. But it meant that we never gave any focus to our own brands. And it’s why people, there’ll be lots of people listening to this who are unfamiliar with Football Special because they don’t know the name all.

Speaker 1 (07:46)
And that’s why we’ve never been able to break out. So it was really important in more recent times, since I got involved in the business, that we really had a focus on our own brands and try to see what the potential of them properly was.

Speaker 2 (08:00)
That’s absolutely brilliant in terms… That’s a valuable lesson to anybody watching this, because, and I understand that, you’re focusing on your bread and butter, as you say, that pays the bills, and taking your eye off what potentially could be a much more lucrative business in your own brand. That’s brilliant.

Speaker 1 (08:18)
To put it in brass taxes, we would have done about €5 million a year in sales of alcohol, versus about half a million in soft drinks. So We were cutting, it was 10% of our business, but I said, This is the future. There’s only one business that’s going to survive another four generations. I can guarantee the alcohol business is going to fall away. Let’s give this one as a chance. It may, hopefully, Hopefully it’ll survive, but it’s the one to back.

Speaker 2 (08:48)
Absolutely brilliant. That leads nicely on to my next question. So you’ve been around for 70 years or so. What’s the secret of the longevity?

Speaker 1 (08:56)
I think the secret for us is trying to not be exactly like every other soft drink business out there. I think if we had just done a Cola and done an orange and done a lemonade, I don’t think we’d still be here. So I think it’s having a differentiator and trying to be that bit different is probably what sustained us. I I mean, the other reason, the other thing that’s resustained us is our loyal fan base, ultimately. People buy the product, people have bought the product their whole life, people continue to buy the product, people in Donegal buy it and they’re proud of it. And ultimately, that’s what sustains us. People like the product. But I think from a bigger viewpoint, it’s definitely not just trying to compete exactly with the larger competitors and trying to mix it up. We’ve brought in ice cream in the last few years. It’s been a big success. Trying to do something, how far can your product stretch? Trying to innovate, but trying to innovate while making sure that you’re differentiated from everybody else.

Speaker 2 (09:57)
And have you made it an all-island What now?

Speaker 1 (10:01)
No, I wouldn’t say that. No, there’s still plenty of holes in our distribution, but we’re getting better. We’re getting better. If I could get it to all over Ulster, that would be a real achievable goal, I think. And then we could go further afield. But no, we’re getting better.

Speaker 2 (10:20)
Did I see it in Tesco at one stage?

Speaker 1 (10:22)
Yes, you’ll get the one litre range in Tesco. You’ll see us in just one pack size there. It’s Certainly one of the holes in our business is we struggle with distribution, especially to the national chains, because they see us as a regional product. And you might get people who say, buyers from supermarket groups who really love football special because they may holiday in Donegal or they may be from Donegal, but they are saying, Well, that’s not going to sell in my shop in Belfast. So I’m not giving you… I’ll buy a case for myself, but I’m not putting it on my shelf.

Speaker 2 (10:58)
So that’s I have to say from personal experience and knowing the amount of people that go to Donegal from Belfast, I think you might do a row in Belfast.

Speaker 1 (11:08)
Yeah. Well, one of the things that… Again, one of the advantages we have of being based here is that people who are not from here who experience it are always on their holidays. So they associate football, especially with their holidays. So that’s generally a good time. And we get such great brand association with good holiday times. And you couldn’t buy that branding. We’re just fortunate to be from here.

Speaker 2 (11:30)
If you have a look at my smile, it resonates with me so much. It is unbelievable. And look, you’ve actually, again, you’re doing my job for me. You’re leading me on the next question really well here. So what challenges do you face? I mean, you’ve mentioned distribution is one of them. What other challenges do you face trying to grow the business?

Speaker 1 (11:47)
Well, I think just that there are less independent retailers or independent retailers are the ones that are independent are getting more and more pressure from the symbol groups. To define what they’re offering in the soft drinks business is. And ultimately, the soft drinks business is going to be policed by Coca-Cola and by Breffic and the likes. So if we can’t get on a planogram in a spa shop, it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to sell to a spa shop owner because it’s not incumbent on them to now stock our product unless they really want to. So that is probably the A great challenge. We are playing in a field whereby there are massive businesses and they’re very successful brands. So the challenge for us is to how do we stay small and do what we do But it’s really distribution and getting listings in new shops is where the challenge lies. And that’s the challenge for any newcomer into the food or drinks business, really.

Speaker 2 (12:55)
Brilliant. This could be a platform for buyers across the industry. So I really hope that we’re able to connect in with someone as a result of this interview.

Speaker 1 (13:04)
Yeah, absolutely. We’re terrific. We’re always open to anything. And anybody ever wants any stuff. I spent the day around Dublin today. We probably have only 16 or 17 outlets there. But the size of the business that we are, every sale matters. And every listing is another listing because somebody sees it in that shop and you get credibility from… If one buyer puts their neck in the line, it’s a lot easier for the next buyer because somebody else has said, That’s a good product for Tesco. So it’s a lot easier then for Asda to say, Well, I’m not putting my neck in the line. Tesco put their neck. I’m just saying, Well, I just followed Tesco. What can I say? So every This thing is key for us. So, yeah, bring it on. I hope there’s all sorts of buyers ringing me after this.

Speaker 2 (13:50)
Brilliant. Okay. So in terms of the original, if you like soft drink, was the football special. How have the others evolved over the years? I’ll come to the ice cream in a minute. I’m just talking about the drinks first.

Speaker 1 (14:02)
Yeah, well, the banana was always our next biggest one. That, again, has been something we use natural banana essence in us. And again, it was just from messing around in the wintertime And a banana came up, pineapple was the same, something different. And that was had them core base and cream soda, which is your traditional old-school soft drink. So that’s really how they came about, was trying to not do to what everybody else does. And then what I found is when I moved to America, there was a real home for that. There’s a real craft soda market there, an industry there. And that’s what I had the ability then to actually do my Cola in a glass bottle again. And to do the orange cream, which is a slight change on what we typically do, but it’s still our recipe.

Speaker 2 (14:53)
I’m really interested about that. That’s a very strange sounding drink, but it is absolutely beautiful. My son just tasted it for the first time there, and he is loving it. How did that come about? That’s a really interesting flavour, orange cream.

Speaker 1 (15:08)
That is basically our orange soft drink, what we used to make our fizzy orange, and then It’s crossed with our cream soda. So the orange cream would be a bigger drink in the United States. But what I was able to do was I was able to take our recipe, blend it with somebody else’s cream soda, and then try and make an Irish twist on an American cream soda. So that’s why we call it American Orange Cream. And it’s been a big hit so far, because, again, there’s nothing really like that in Europe. It has a very distinct creamy taste. It’s a terrific product to pour over ice cream. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (15:52)
I can actually say that if someone tastes that, they will be in love.

Speaker 1 (15:58)
Yeah. I know. People will come back for a second slug of that, all right?

Speaker 2 (16:04)
Class. Okay. We mentioned, and you mentioned as well, the ice cream. So how has that come about? And where do you think that’s going to take the business? Is it going to be a big part or is it just a lad on?

Speaker 1 (16:18)
No. So it came about in many ways because my dad, when we were growing up, was always messing around with flavours. And ice cream was always something that he was messing around with. And the more and more people we met, we looked at a few years ago making an investment and trying to set up our own ice cream factory. And we were lucky that we met a guy, Frank Kilpatrick, from Quinz Gelato, based in Cookestown. And they were a family business very similar to ours. And it was a really good fit for us. And we were able to, again, we were able to bring our recipes to him, and he was able to match that into an ice cream. So it was a bit of a natural brand extension. People had always used our drinks in soda floats and the like. So we always We just knew that the flavour profile would work with an ice cream. When we found a manufacturer partner who could do that for us, that was our entry into the market. What we have found since then is, if you look at our core target market, if you look at people who really drink football special, you’re looking at your, I always say, your 8-17-year-olds.

Speaker 1 (17:20)
It’s your kids and your teenagers. When people graduate into their 20s, their consumption of soft drinks naturally slows down. But if you look at our social media presence and our marketing presence. It’s very much people in their 20s and 30s. And while it’s great to get attention from them, they’re not necessarily the core consumers of the product. And even if they are, they might at best buy the odd bottle because of various, they’re concerned about the sugar and the calories that are in it. And they just have a more mature palate. What we have found is the ice cream cuts right through that. I have never once been asked about how much sugar is in my ice cream. That is of no concern to anybody. And I’ve also found that the ice cream industry, there’s a lot more choice in the ice cream flavours, and people are actually slightly more adventurous when it comes to their ice cream flavours. So we have our ice cream. Actually, we have our ice cream all over Northern Ireland, really. And people are buying our banana ice cream, especially, that have no… They don’t know McDonald’s. They’re just trying There they see a banana ice cream and it tastes good and they buy it again.

Speaker 1 (18:34)
It’s a slightly easier gateway than the soft drinks has been. We see it as being a massive part of our future. It’s really interesting. We knew the products would work, but whether we could crack that market, I wasn’t unsure. But to a limited way, we have, and it’s opened up avenues because it has allowed fans of the product to consume the product again. That’s It’s been a big, big advantage to us, and it’s been a big add-on.

Speaker 2 (19:05)
Really clever idea. Could you then actually start selling your soft drinks alongside the ice cream? Is that what you’re doing or how does it working?

Speaker 1 (19:13)
Yeah, in many shops, we would do that. But that would be the… Now it’s, can you try get it in there? If your banana ice cream can sell, you’d be saying to the store owner, Well, listen, if the ice cream is selling, there’s no reason why the soft drink won’t sell here. I mean, and that’s very much why our Our ice cream branding is the exact same as a bottle. And that’s a conscious decision that while… Yeah, plenty. So our banana ice cream looks exactly like that. And when you scoop it out, it looks like that. And that’s very much that… Yeah, people who just like banana ice cream, but you’re reinforcing it as a Mcdeeds banal ice cream you’re eating. And then therefore, you can drink a Mcdeeds carbonated drink.

Speaker 2 (19:55)
So have we any ice cream sellers in Belfast yet?

Speaker 1 (20:00)
How have you any ice cream sellers in Belfast? I would have to. So we’re lucky that Savage and Witten Wholesale carry us all around North Ireland. So they may take us into many places I’m unaware of. I don’t have any… Of course, the challenge with ice cream, which is different to the soft drinks, is it’s a frozen distribution, and that has its own challenges. It wasn’t just easy for us to carry. We had to invest in a frozen truck and some frozen warehousing. There was differences, and that has really limited the only places that I distribute the ice cream is Donegal, West Throne and West Derry, because it’s the only where I can get at. We’re lucky that Savage of Witten will take us further afield. The drinks are different because it’s ambient. I can ship you them all over the place and it’s much easier. Much easier.

Speaker 2 (20:48)
Well, I’m going to have to just get some ice cream and use that banana then and make what we call in Belfast a smokey, or I like a cook float.

Speaker 1 (20:55)
Absolutely love that.

Speaker 2 (20:57)
Brilliant. Okay. And we’re going to have to We look to see how we can extend that down here because that sounds amazing. Mcdead’s banana ice cream sounds like the.

Speaker 1 (21:08)
To say that the ice cream is… You see great growth, and the ice cream industry is in growth. We’ve had great response from buyers. We had our banana ice cream and we had a special buy in Aldi, and sales were good. And again, you’re looking at people there who are just picking up a banana ice cream. So if you can produce a quality product, product, your brand is much less important. I feel that basically, Coca-Cola have merchandised the fridge down to a science that when you go into a shop, you may not have your soft drink choice in mind. But as soon as you hit the fridge, Coke know where your eyes are going to be attracted to. The freezer is a much more… It’s much more of the Wild West than the freezer. So it’s a heavier merchandise It’s a nice business. You’ve got to stock the shelves a lot more than you have to do with the soft drinks. But people are much more conscious. They’re definitely more ambitious and adventurous in that oil than they are in the soft drinks.

Speaker 2 (22:13)
That’s actually really true. Really, really true. So you make a stake to some of the claims on those freezers?

Speaker 1 (22:19)
Yes. Tell me, just on that, did you get any help from the likes of Donegal County Council when you were coming up with this new product idea or any of the A food government body, board basis? No, we didn’t with that. Now, we have had some assistance since, and we were. We will probably get some more now as we try to grow it now, really. No, not so much. The biggest thing that happened in the ice cream was finding our manufacturing partner. Quinz was a perfect fit. They are another family business. They’re based in Northern Ireland, so they’re geographically close to us, and it makes a lot of sense to do with them. And that’s one of the reasons that there has been a success. They have been able to manufacture for us to our level. And I think we have been able to keep them busy in many ways, too. So it’s been a really good relationship that’s worked really well.

Speaker 2 (23:19)
Brilliant for Ulster.

Speaker 1 (23:21)
Yes. And that’s it. I did have somebody tell me once that you can get too provincial. We try and sell ourselves as this Donegal brand of drink, But on the continent, in France, the champagne region is about the size of the whole of Ulster. We’re far too parochial here. If it’s something that’s coming from Taron, it’s basically the Northwest. Let’s not get too held up here. The cows there are eating basically the same grass. The idea that if I… You’re selling something from Cork, now it’s going to be different. But if we can brand it as this region, then that’s good enough for me.

Speaker 2 (24:04)
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Tell me, if there’s any business owners in the food and drinks industry who are looking to distribute products, what advice would you give them? Because I know you found it difficult Yeah, I think ultimately, what I would say is, you’ve got to have a product that people like, and your product will stand and die, and we’re like, We’ll live or die at that.

Speaker 1 (24:25)
If people like your product, then a shopkeeper will be forced to buy because he knows or she knows it’s going to sell. So if your product is rubbish, you have no chance. And the same, not just the product, but if the packaging is rubbish, and all the things that go into it. So you’ve got to keep If you think there’s something there, you have to keep improving and improving it and getting it to a point where you’re like, okay, that is a product that I can stand over and that’s good. So I think that would be my big thing would be, yeah, make sure your product and make sure your packaging, and don’t be afraid to keep tinkering with it and figuring out what really works. And then I would say the second advice would be, if you have a bit of success, then don’t get too puritan with the whole thing then. You are going to have to deal with Hendersons at some stage. You’re going to have to deal with Musgraves. Are they going to treat you well? Probably not. But the reality is you’re not going to survive in the food and drinks business without dealing with them.

Speaker 1 (25:25)
I certainly see it in the craft beer business where you can get too mighty then. You’re not going to deal with these people. But you’re putting a ceiling on your business then. You’re going to have to conform to what they want at some point in time. So don’t let them hold you back at the start, but eventually accept that you’re going to have to fit into their model. They control the retail space. Unless you want to set up your own chain of shops, that is what it is.

Speaker 2 (25:58)
Yeah, so don’t cut your nose It’s off, basically. Exactly.

Speaker 1 (26:01)
I say that as somebody, I’m begging them to get in the door there. But I know that I need them to succeed. I don’t need them to survive, but I need them to really succeed in the business. That would be my two. Get your product right. And even then with your product, don’t get too pure over what your product is going to be. People see lovely… See People see beautiful packaging and they think, Well, that’s the way it is. But ultimately, if that bottle is the wrong shape and it doesn’t fit in somebody’s fridge, then you’re not going to get in somebody’s fridge. So you’re going to have to know. And that’s the lesson we learned the hard way. We used to always have We always do these funky sizes. We’d have a 420 mill bottle and all that stuff. What we learned was everybody buys the soft drinks business. It’s a 500 mill bottle. So it’s a lot easier for a retailer to understand, Oh, what my margins are and what the price of it is. Coke have set the market for that, so we just conform and fit in there. It’s about trying to be different but knowing what works.

Speaker 2 (27:11)
Yeah, when to push the boundaries and when not.

Speaker 1 (27:14)
I think you’ve recently set up an online arm, like an e-commerce site, haven’t you? Yeah, the e-commerce-How’s that going?

Speaker 2 (27:22)
And do you see it expanding?

Speaker 1 (27:24)
Yeah, the e-commerce has been a really big, great… It’s been a bright spot of the year. Obviously, lots of people’s online platforms have really picked up. And for us, it was, again, a lot of people… Where we were able to tap into was people who couldn’t get to Donegal for their holidays. Now we were able to get the product to them, and we tried to really play up to that. If you can’t get here, let us send it all to you. We sent e-commerce. It’s been going really, really well. It’s becoming an important arm of our business. Again, The idea that I can get direct to consumers now gives me some leverage then again over retailers because it gives me a chance to sell to people. If you’re in If you’re in Fermanna and you can’t buy us anywhere, at least I can get it to you now. That gives me opportunities then to go with that data to a shopkeeper in Enniscillen and say, Well, I’ve already sold six cases in these postcodes. So there has to be a market here. So it’s one way of really proving the market and proving there’s a market there.

Speaker 1 (28:38)
So it’s been a real bright spot.

Speaker 2 (28:41)
So I don’t really want to focus on COVID, but has that actually helped the e-commerce set of things?

Speaker 1 (28:48)
Yeah, definitely. I definitely think that drove traffic to our website. We could see it, we had an old clunky website that had a very, very, very basic e-commerce. And it was really March, April. I could see this thing explode. So that’s when I went to Intertrain Ireland and got some funding. I met with you guys and you were able to help me try to figure out what exactly I want to do there. But that has sustained. Even in the summer months when people were able to get here, the traffic has continued. And there’s an opportunity now, probably for us to do that in a wider field, be it in the UK or somewhere, the concept being that we do craft soda. There’s not that many people doing craft soda. There’s less still people doing craft soda who are selling it online. So if you’re just a consumer who wants craft soda and you’re in Leicester, why not? When you see this product, yeah, let me have a try that. And again, that’s something that I would never, ever have been able to reach before because it would have required me to find a wholesaler in Leicester to then find retailers.

Speaker 1 (29:56)
And it would have… It’s an investment now. And now My investment in this is just keeping a good website and keeping a good e-commerce platform.

Speaker 2 (30:04)
Brilliant. So are you thinking maybe running some campaigns online that target certain there is?

Speaker 1 (30:10)
Yeah, we probably are. We would see it. We just see that as an opportunity now to really get some sales, to really get some volume through that channel. And everybody’s doing it. It’s no different to Coca-Cola getting into the cost of business. All these brands are figuring out, you need to get direct to consumers now. We went It was a culture period where we all wanted middlemen. You wanted agents. That was what they specialised in. But all the big brands have figured this out, and we’re just following their lead. You need a direct consumer offering. If you can do it, if it makes sense. We’ll probably try and do some promotions around and then we’ll try drive it.

Speaker 2 (30:52)
Brilliant. I think it’ll work very well for you. Tell me, what do you see in terms of any industry changes or how it’s going to evolve going forward here?

Speaker 1 (31:02)
I definitely see. When I was involved in this business when I was a teenager, so I’m 31 now, so you think when I was a teenager, it was almost uncool to drink football special. In that it was seen as old hat. It has really come back around, and it’s not… I would love to take full credit for this great rebrand or something like that, but it’s more so people are buying local much more now. And It’s no longer cool. When I was a teenager, people wanted the international brands. That has changed. Teenagers now, especially, are looking at local things. Being regional and being local is really cool. So that has opened up a space for local suppliers that wasn’t there before. And that, again, that has fed through and that has forced retailers and food service people to take local brands that weren’t there before. The other big change I’ve seen is this rise in cafe coffee culture. I spent a couple of years in Australia about 10 years ago now, and it was huge there. So it was inevitable it was going to come here, especially as our alcohol culture, we went as consumers, I guess, if you want to put it in a nice way.

Speaker 1 (32:21)
I can see that future. That’s only going to grow. If the pub trade is probably going to decrease over the years as that market continues to grow. We’ll probably hit a saturation point at some point. And again, that is a market that is terrific for small independent food and drink producers, because it’s likely that the local coffee shop is a small chain or an independent, and they are definitely going to help you out.

Speaker 2 (32:55)
And look after your needs. I’m just thinking out loud here that this ban, local and provenance has really become huge over the last number of years, and it’s certainly benefiting businesses like your own, which is great.

Speaker 1 (33:07)
Yeah. I really can see it’s sustaining because ultimately, it’s things like food miles and things as well. We’re a local product. It’s produced locally. So we have that there. The profits are staying in the local area. I don’t think it’s a fad. I think that will sustain. You hear people, even in the The industry talk about the wine business. When the conquistadors went to South America, they figured out it didn’t make any sense to ship bottles of wine to Chile. So why don’t we just bring the grapes with us and plant them here and we’ll just produce the wine here. But now we can’t wait to ship wine all around the world. We are going to live through an era now where, again, it becomes nonsensical to ship the wine back from Chile. You can make it here, so just buy that. Or it’ll only be for the super hyper premium brands that you’ll do that. So being a local brand gives you that opportunity. That may close some export markets to you, but it gives you an opportunity in your domestic market.

Speaker 2 (34:09)
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Before I go on, I’m going to ask you maybe a final couple of questions. Where can we reach you? So where can we buy this? Tell me all about it. What channels?

Speaker 1 (34:18)
Yeah, well, if you wanted to check out it. So football-special. Com is our website, and we have an online shop there and go ahead and buy it. And then if you Look around. We’re in Tesco. And look around lots of independent shops. You’ll find us there. On our website, we have a listing of where we are, but we’re sprouting up all over the place.

Speaker 2 (34:43)
How do you reach Seamus McDade?

Speaker 1 (34:44)
You’ll find me on… You can message us on our Facebook, although I will say that my wife runs a Facebook page. So please be careful what you’re sending to me there. So if any women are trying to get to know, not use that channel. But no, and you can follow me on Twitter @FPSpecial. So it’s where I’m at there. So, yeah, anybody wants to get in touch of me. I’m always on all ears to all ideas.

Speaker 2 (35:10)
What about an email? Plug yourself.

Speaker 1 (35:13)
Fbspecial@yet. Ca. Bahoo. Co. Uk. Okay. I’m big into my branding, so everything is football special or FBS special.

Speaker 2 (35:22)
Okay, super. And lastly then, Seamus, tell me, what is the future for football special and the Mcdeath family business? Big question.

Speaker 1 (35:32)
Yeah, well, we see a great future in the craft soft drinks business. The glass bottles that you looked at. We see a greater move towards glass. I mean, we have a 7:50 50 millilitre glass that’s a returnable glass bottle that can be rewashed 200 times. And that’s how it used to be. We’ll see more and more of that. I could envisage a future whereby Mcdeas, we don’t sell any plastic bottles anymore. And that’s an interesting thing because we were all glass at one stage and people forced us to get into plastic and now they’re forced us to get back into glass. And that’s just cyclical, how things go. So I can see us really trying to go after the craft soft drinks market and not trying to compete with Coca-Cola and leaving the mainstream market to Coke and Sprite and and Britfic and CNC, and then us just focussing on the craft market. And then I also see an extension of our brand being in our ice cream. We’re looking at sweets, we’re looking at barbecue sauces. Whatever I can brand, I have hoodies, whatever I can stick football special on, it will sell. I’ll do it.

Speaker 2 (36:49)
Absolutely brilliant. I’m so looking forward to the sweets and even the barbecue sauce. Seamus, I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed this. Nostalgic If you like view of your beautiful products. And honest to God, even you’re bringing the bottles back to the shop. Remember doing that and getting them a 10p? So exciting when I was a child. I remember that you’re too young.

Speaker 1 (37:14)
Yeah, no, I remember doing it. I remember plenty of people bringing it back to our factory. I remember lots of young lads doing it and then hopping the wall and robbing the bottles back and then bringing it back. Getting 10p. It is funny how it evolves. That 10p is irrelevant now. People don’t return it for that anymore. They return it for a more altruistic game. They’re trying to figure out a system whereby we could do a loyalty reward programme, where if you return it instead of getting 10p back, maybe you get a credit off your next purchase or something. The 10 P was a huge thing. Back 70 years ago when you were a child, it was a big thing. I’m trying to figure out what works for a child at for a child and a teenager now. What will make them return it?

Speaker 2 (38:01)
Yeah, the kids would turn their nose up at 10:00 PM.

Speaker 1 (38:04)
Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 2 (38:06)
Well, Seamus, that was absolutely fantastic. I really think our viewers will love this. I really wish the business all the success in the world. And thank you so much for coming on today.

Speaker 1 (38:17)
Yeah, no. Thanks a million for having me. And I hope people enjoyed it.

Speaker 2 (38:20)
You’re so welcome. Thank you.

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