Branching out Food tourism presents big opportunities for farmers and rural businesses, reports
FOOD tourism has opened up new opportunities for producers, communities and restaurateurs to put their region on the map and showcase what they do to a wider audience.
Holidaymakers to this country spend an estimated €2bn on food during their stay, Fáilte Ireland estimates. Yet Ireland is still not considered a “food destination”.
According to United Nations World Travel Organisation figures, around 10pc of the world’s tourism market is made up of gastro-tourists, those who will travel to a particular region because of its food.
It is estimated that 30pc of the average tourist spend is on food and with tax receipts of €6bn from tourism, this equates to a spend of €2bn on food alone.
John Mulcahy, head of food tourism at Fáilte Ireland, says visitors are not coming here for food but it is a key driver in how satisfied they are with their holiday.
“Our research shows that overseas, Ireland is not seen as a place you would go for food, despite our marvellous green image.
“Irish food is still seen as traditional things like brown bread, Irish stew, Guinness and whiskey,” Mr Mulcahy says.
“When people come here we do know that food is a driver of satisfaction and if the food is not right they don’t go home happy.”
To this end, the tourism body is more interested in making sure the food visitors experience is memorable and above their expectations and reflective of the place they are in.
“There is an increased role for rural communities to get involved here and our aim is to shorten the journey from farm to table and we really want to up the game on breakfast. Someone running a B&B should not be going to the supermarket for cheap bacon and eggs when these are available down the road.”
Generally, satisfaction rates are high on Fáilte Ireland’s top three products; the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin, that are targeted at four main markets; America, Britain, France and Germany.
The holy grail of becoming a food destination is a longer journey but already communities have their sights set on this.
For one, it has offered an opportunity to work together and develop its own food story that combines heritage, natural resources and native talent in a sustainable way that will benefit all its stake holders.
During the 18th century, one of the main exports from Ireland was butter, which was transported from the dairy farms to the butter exchange in Cork by donkey and cart over bad roads.
The Muskerry, Avondhu and Duhallow areas of north and west Cork had strong links with the butter trail that can be traced back to 1730 until their role faded in the 1920s and the small creameries took over.
Martina and Patricia Cronin of the Square Table restaurant in Blarney, Co Cork remember their grandfather pointed out one of these butter roads to them, a small boreen that traversed his land in Kilnamartyra, when they were children.
They got together with Máire Ní Mhurchú of Activitydays.ie and farmers, food producers and other restaurateurs from Mallow, Ballyvourney, Blarney and Mitchelstown — areas the butter road would have passed through — to talk about how they could develop a tourist food trail.
The sisters opened their res- taurant in Blarney three years ago and their ethos was to support as much local produce as possible.
“We felt the region wasn’t known for food and yet it was full of food producers but there was no one promoting it for food tourism,” Patricia said.
This was about 18 months ago but in the past few months the Butter Roads Trail has been given an added boost and the new tourist initiative was officially launched by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed earlier this summer.
Pat Mulcahy and his daughter Sheena from Ballinwillin House and Farm near Mitchelstown were among those who saw the potential in the venture and were eager to get involved.
Pat has a herd of 800 deer, 350 wild boar, 150 goats and 40 beef cattle. The produce from his organic farm is sold online, mainly to the UK and Europe, and into hotels and restaurants around the country.
All the processing and packaging is carried out on the farm so what goes out is a finished product. The produce from the farm is also served in the B&B.
“We had this idea that we would start trading with each other and inter-trading and try to create a few jobs in the area by working together,” Pat explains.
“The whole ethos is about the farming community and businesses working together to try to create jobs.”
Pat bought Ballinwillin House in 1985 and started importing deer and wild boar from Hungary about 10 years later and now has two fine breeding herds that produce all the meat that’s processed and packaged on farm.
“If you go back 30 years when we started doing this first, it was a hard enough sell and in some cases, Irish people can still be very traditional about the food they eat.
“Chefs now want to sample and see where their produce comes from and it’s chefs like that who know what we do that give us the name we have now.”
Pat sees the biggest challenge in setting up something like the Butter Roads Trail is getting people to see the future.
“People ask why they should join it and I’d tell them it’s for the future and trying to create a better future for their area and their family.
“Already it’s paying dividends. We would be dealing with about 10 restaurants and hotels that we didn’t deal with before the Butter Roads Trail and we’re also buying stuff from people we didn’t know existed before this,” he said.
Now when his guests are looking for recommendations for places to stay and eat, he refers them to other people on the Butter Roads Trail network.
“Tourism is rampant and there are huge numbers coming into the country for business and food tourism and if you have places they can eat and stay you try to hold them in your area for another 24 hours
Making a buck: Pat Mulcahy with some of his deer on Ballinwillin House Farm near Mitchelstown, Co Cork