McDonnells Curry Sauce


When Irish people think of curry – not kormas, tikka masalas or Thai reds, but Curry (Capital C) – what they are thinking of, whether they know it or not, is McDonnells Curry Sauce.

Curry Chips, or chips drowned in curry sauce, has been a mainstay of every Irish local town chip shop for nearly 40 years now.

Served at home with chicken and rice, it’s the curry sauce that Irish people have been brought up on.

Up until recently, McDonnells had been the untroubled kingpin of the category (dry curry powder which becomes curry sauce), and as such, had never had any need to invest in any advertising communications.

It was a successful product but, practically speaking, an invisible brand – having never been advertised. Everyone knew curry sauce. Far less were aware it was McDonnells.  In fact, even those who knew McDonnells saw it as being indistinctive versus its competitors.

Whilst it was a profitable business, which is amongst the reasons the Boyne Valley Group (referred to as BVG from hereon in) purchased it back in 2011, it has been in recent decline for a number of reasons:

  • Its format – a dry powder that required more cooking than other, more convenient ‘pour over’ jars or other wet curry sauces – was fighting against the general trend of ‘ease of preparation’ when it came to home cooking. The overall dry curry powder sector was in decline by 6% YoY.
  • Its packaging was tired, unchanged and unloved – essentially a generic style red tub.
  • Worse still, and unsurprisingly given the potential size of the prize and the low barriers to market entry, the dry curry powder sector had begun to attract a number of cheaper branded alternatives and own branded look-a-likey competitors.
  • Most significantly, Erin launched a ‘me-too’ in 2013, followed in 2014 by Aldi, Lidl, Dunnes Stores and Tesco.

The result of all of this meant that by mid-2014, McDonnells were losing 9% YOY, faster than the market decline of 6% (mid-years figures showed McDonnells’ losses were actually accelerating to 13%).

Overall, we were staring into a potentially very bleak future.

This is the story of how Boyne Valley faced this adversity and transformed McDonnells from a great product into a great brand solely through advertising.