We have been buying meat products made by Ulrich Heck, the butcher, since he moved his business to Nelson in 2012 and last week I had a chat with him about the challenges he has faced and his family heritage as butchers; he can trace the family’s traditional butchery business back to the 1500’s in Germany.
Ulrich, or ‘Heck’ as he is often called, came to Nelson 2004 with his wife and their two boys before moving to Christchurch a year later. While Petra worked as an engineer Heck was a stay-at-home dad and between looking after two very energetic boys he did all the research and planning needed to set up his first business in this country.
Heck German Smallgoods is a German gourmet butchery that produces and sells authentic German and European quality smallgoods, sausages, salamis, beersticks and specially cooked and smoked meats.
Heck opened the first factory and store in Burnside during 2006 before he opened a retail outlet in Victoria Street in Christchurch a few years later. His products soon started appearing in cafés and restaurants across the city, especially his breakfast sausages that were a much loved part of many breakfast menus and many of these restaurants still buy his products that he now ships overnight to anywhere in New Zealand from Nelson.
The Christchurch earthquakes tossed Heck his first challenge and after rebuilding his Burnside factory after the 2011 earthquakes he spent two years commuting between Christchurch and Nelson where his wife was working before deciding to move to Nelson; leaving all the stresses of the earthquakes behind him it was time to say a sad farewell to a city that had welcomed him and his traditional butchery skills.
When I was talking with Heck it became obvious he is a very positive human being and this positivity has seen him weather some huge challenges since moving to Nelson three years ago and come out with a smile on his face and a great business.
It must have been very difficult to keep his head up and carry on building his dream in Nelson after his factory was first flooded, then burned down when his neighbours property caught fire and then being burgled of about $30,000 worth of product just before Christmas last year; Heck has had more than his share of challenges!
Heck says that being successful in producing and selling smallgoods “is a matter of trust, customers need to be able to trust the products I make and be able to rely on the quality and flavour so they want to come back and buy the products again. It also means they trust me when I introduce a new product and my loyal customers are prepared to try these new things. If you don’t have trust you don’t have a business.”
When Heck refers to new products he is talking about products new to the market here because he has many traditional German recipes that have been handed down through generations and when he gets a bit bored with the products he has he simply pulls out an old recipe and tests it on regulars before adding it to his full product range.
When it comes to quality there is no compromise at Heck’s, he uses free-farmed pork and beef products and the high quality equipment he has imported from Germany means all of the products he makes are consistent in quality and taste, “Germans love machinery and we use it to make life easier and to make sure everything we make is the same every time”. Using technology and machinery means he can manage all of the production himself but even with the help of machinery he still works 12 to 14 hours a day.
About his products Heck says “I only sell what I would eat so it has to be good, because everyone has different tastes some people may not like some of my products but that is ok, I have a money back guarantee so if someone doesn’t like the taste they can bring it back but that doesn’t happen very often because quality never lets you down.”
While Heck is the butcher his retail assistant, Lilia, trained as a butchery sales assistant in Germany. This included a three year apprenticeship and then about three years working before moving to New Zealand and “she knows everything about selling and delivery so I can focus on production” says Heck.
All of the Heck’s products are gluten free and made to the absolute highest quality, including his delicious hams at Christmas time. While he is going to have an online store soon he has more products in the retail cabinet at his factory in Kotua Place at the Whakatu Industrial Estate which is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 2pm and you will also find him cooking up his sausages in the Montgomery car park outside Krauts Restaurant every Saturday. www.heck.co.nz