Rebel county com­pa­nies learn to tell their brands’ sto­ries

Irish Examiner - Supplement - - FOOD & DRINK IRELAND - Joe McNamee looks at brand­ing ini­tia­tives that are pay­ing div­i­dends

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.

Global chal­lenges

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...

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