Ray Coyle: A special kind of genius
The founder of Largo Foods and Tayto Park, Ray Coyle, died peacefully on Wednesday, 8 June 2022, surrounded by his wife Roz and children Natalya and Charles. Here, we pay tribute to the man who has left a lasting legacy of helping countless others to succeed
14 June 2022 | 0
“It takes a special kind of genius, vision, and determination to create a white-knuckle ride theme park in Co. Meath, name it after a crisp, and attract millions of visitors since 2010,” was how The Irish Examiner described entrepreneur Ray Coyle.
A hugely popular figure in the grocery industry owing to his generosity and gregarious good humour, here at ShelfLife we have our own fond memories of the Largo Foods and Tayto Park founder, whom we have interviewed several times down through the years. In fact, Ray Coyle featured on our cover exactly one year ago, for our June 2021 issue.
In that interview, Fionnuala Carolan described the easy, modest manner with which Coyle carried his success and innate resilience, writing: “Nothing seems to faze Ray Coyle. As he speaks about some astonishing events in his life, he might as well be reading out a shopping list. “I bought this factory then; I lost a fortune there; I decided to build a theme park; I’ve had cancer twice.”
“Coyle is an illustrious character,” the piece continued. “The measure of the man is really in the story that many in the industry already know about how in 1981 he found himself in serious financial trouble that would utterly destroy him, owing £1.2 million Irish pounds to the bank with no way to pay it back. The farm he owned would only cover a fraction of the debt if sold so he decided to raffle it off. He sold 4,000 tickets at £300 pounds a pop and recouped £1.2 million, paid the bank what was owed and turned around and launched a crisp company.”
To give a brief summary of his activities thereafter, the details of which many of our readers will already be familiar: Ray Coyle set up snack company Largo Foods in 1982, which grew to include brands such as Tayto, Hunky Dorys and King crisps. He later sold a 15% stake in the business that owned the Tayto brand to German firm Intersnack in 2007 and his remaining 25% stake in 2015, before stepping away from that business completely in late 2016. In 2019, Largo Foods changed its name to Tayto Snacks.
Tayto Park first opened in November 2010 and has welcomed over 5m visitors since it first opened its gates, growing into one of Ireland’s most popular paid visitor attractions. In November, the park said it was planning to change its name after Tayto’s existing title sponsorship ends at the end of this year. Ray Coyle is survived by his wife Roz, his son Charles, who manages Tayto Park, and his daughter Natalya, who has represented Ireland at the Olympic Games.
Back in 2008, I well remember interviewing Ray Coyle. In his typical playful humour, he tested my gullibility reflex with the following hair-raising explanation of how Buffalo Hunky Dorys are made: “We kill the buffalo every two or three weeks and dry the meat out until it’s bone dry. Then we macerate the product and spread it on the crisps.”
Of course, Coyle did indeed keep a herd of over 250 buffalo at the Largo Foods headquarters in Kilbrew, Ashbourne, County Meath. He explained that he actually bought the buffalo 12 years previously, “as a wild thing to do,” (no pun intended), and decided to introduce buffalo flavoured crisps on the back of this, which “believe it or not it worked!”.
Full of ‘joie de vivre’ seems to be a perfect phrase to sum up Ray Coyle, whose outlook was encapsulated in his thoughts on what made a good advertising campaign: “It has to be funny, to make you see it when you’re driving along the road and it must also make you feel warm and have a bit of a laugh, but not be offensive.”
This is the feeling that he himself evoked for many people. Always a modest man, since his passing, many stories have emerged of how Ray Coyle gave a helping hand to people as they started their business: an incredible legacy to bequeath.
Tributes to an iconic Irish entrepreneur
Joe Tierney, national executive officer, CSNA – “CSNA is saddened to hear of Ray’s passing. He was a great supporter of the association and hosted the National Executive and Consultative Council at Tayto Park a number of years ago as well as being guest speaker at the CSNA Annual Dinner in Killiney Castle Hotel since. He championed the little guy and was always generous with his wisdom and time. May he rest in peace.”
Ibec CEO, Danny McCoy – “Ray was a wonderful entrepreneur and brought innovative thinking into the Irish food business, establishing an iconic brand. He was the creator of the remarkable development of Largo Foods and Tayto Park, creating considerable job opportunities in the process. Ibec and the wider business community offers its condolences to the Coyle family for their loss.”
Tara Buckley, director general, RGDATA – “Ray Coyle was an innovative entrepreneur who made a significant impact on the Irish grocery sector. RGDATA would like to send condolences to his family and his many colleagues, customers and friends. He will certainly be missed. May he rest in peace.”
The Fed Ireland district president, Martin Mulligan – “On behalf of The Federation of Independent Retailers, I offer our deepest sympathy to the Coyle family on the passing of Raymond. He was a thorough entrepreneur and gentleman. May he rest in peace.”
ShelfLife would like to share our deepest sympathies with Ray Coyle’s family, friends and colleagues.