Rebel county companies learn to tell their brands’ stories
Even through the darkest days of the recent recession, Irish Food Inc remained one of the sole few good news stories as agri- biz exports continued to rise, the largest native contributor to those precious GDP figures.
At the other end of the spectrum, the smallest producers from the speciality sector, though not as fiscally sound as the big boys, continued to grow as Irish consumers became even more patriotic in their purchasing, insisting on premium Irish products over imports whenever possible and purse permitting.
Many of the smaller companies around the country have encountered their Local Enterprise Office (LEO) pretty early on in the game as a valuable source of both advice and funding. But such is the plethora of specialty food companies in Cork that it was decided to form a regional marketing initiative , Taste Cork, funded by the Cork LEOs, and Cork City and County Councils to create a network involving producers, restaurants, cafes, hotels, distributors and retailers, and to become an umbrella brand for Cork’s food sector and their work is already under way.
But, ironically, as the situation improves here, global events elsewhere are adding a new level of uncertainty, most especially the spectre of Brexit looming on the horizon.
“The LEO is the first point of contact for anyone setting up a business in Ireland,” says Joe Burke, Assistant Head of Enterprise, LEO South Cork, “and under that guise we have a number of ‘soft supports’ and also offer direct financial aid.
“Soft supports would include entrepreneurial advice and training, financial training, marketing training, social media training and mentoring — to have all of the basic support mechanisms in place to establish a business.
“Coupled with that, we would provide grant aid to companies providing niche manufacturing and services- related companies that would have potential on the international market in time,” adds Joe Burke.
“We’ve seen a large number of food and drink companies starting their businesses over the last 20 years, and we found gaps in providing services to food and beverage companies locally which is why we established Taste Cork.
“Up to 40% of everything we do in the Cork LEOs is food and beverage, a very high percentage— we estimate there is well over half the speciality food producers residing in Cork compared to the rest of the country, so there is a substantial demand.”
And what of Brexit? “Well, the LEOs deal with the micro-enterprise sector [ companies with between one and ten employees] so the impact has not really become apparent in that sector as most wouldn’t have exported yet — it’s when you progress past ten employees that you come under the Enterprise Ireland portfolio— but, saying that, 37% of all food and beverages exported from Ireland goes to the UK market and we are aware that quite a number of micro-companies are caught up in that and we are looking at safeguarding and best practice in exporting and what they should be mindful of and also looking at other export markets.
For example, in January, we launched the food and beverage export programme and we looked at the Scandinavian and French markets as examples.
More than 30 companies did a series of workshops, looking at those markets and had direct mentors from Scandinavia and France outlining best how they should enter those markets and the pitfalls.
It was a great success and by the end of this year we are hoping to go to France and Scandinavia to take them on a walkthrough of the biggest trade fairs so they can see at first hand and see how their products measure up against the market there. That’s really positive and practical because at this point in time, they are the ones with the highest impact from Brexit.”
With the establishment of Taste Cork came the appointment of a full- time development of f icer — Rebecca O’Keeffe.
Taste Cork strategy
“There are four main parts to the overall Taste Cork strategy,” Rebecca says, “First, consumer communications, that is communicating to consumers and promoting Cork food and Cork food businesses.
“Second, you have establishing routes to markets for producers and this is where the trade shows and the LEOs feed in.
“Third, you have the signposting of supports. We have a review board that meets every six months, from every agency, Fáilte Ireland, Bord Bia, Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, then locally, UCC, CIT, Cork Chamber of Commerce, both councils and the LEO offices.
“It’s a review meeting for Taste Cork and for everyone to update each other on what supports they currently have on offer. Finally, you have promoting Cork as a food tourism destination.
“I work very closely with Sinéad Hennessy of Fáilte Ireland. I’m spending a lot of time on the food tourism side of things, working on developing a new website for Taste Cork that is very consumer facing, basically all about promoting Cork food experiences, food, where to shop, where to eat.
“And then we’ll have a members login where producers and restaurants, cafes and service operators can log in so it will be a business to business directory that they’ll have access to.
“Brexit doesn’t fall directly on my plate but impacts on Fáilte Ireland and the LEOs. Our expert training programme is UK- focused but this year broadened to cover France, Germancy and Scandinavia — those would be the fastest growing export markets, the next three hot markets.”
At the Brand Storytelling event hosted by Taste Cork for Local Enterprise Week, held in Kinsale in March were Alison Roberts, Clonakilty Chocolate, and Maud Black, Blacks Brewery. The event was attended by some of Cork’s brightest food companies who were invited to focus on the importance of communicating the story of their brands. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision