Thursday, 7 April 2011

Finally a good news story

It’s not too often these days we get some good news so let’s embrace what was revealed at the first For Food’s Sake evening. The Irish food industry is one area in Ireland that is experiencing growth and it turns out things are looking pretty good for artisan producers and farming. 
The man behind Connemara Smokehouse, Graham Roberts, explains why artisan producers are succeeding despite a cost conscious country.
“How come small businesses are doing well as a result of the tough times? Well people are working very hard for their money and they want to make sure when they go and buy something that they are getting good food for their money. “
When a small business starts doing well it benefits the surrounding areas in more ways than one.
“In our business we have seventeen different employees in a small area and we’ve got all those people bar one who have young families of two children upwards. That’s a fantastic thing when you think that a small business can affect 20 to 30 people's lives in a positive.” 
Graham Roberts addresses the crowd

Una Fitzgibbon, Director of Marketing Services for Bord Bia added to the good news but was aware that it is still a difficult time for any producer.
“The artisan food group grew from 50 firms in 1995 to 400 firms today. The response we get varies, some have had a tough year, others are doing okay. The biggest challenge that artisan producers currently face is in cash flow but there is a local market and by in large they are strong and doing well."  Una added that our food industry has become a strong sector in Ireland thanks to a growing support. “There is a new informal network emerging in the industry itself where people are interested in investing into small companies.”
Suzanne Campbell, journalist and food blogger was quick to add her insider experience to the matter:
“You have entrepreneurs who have a relatively big company who are then interested in smaller companies in a variety of ways, either through working co-operatively or through formal networking. It has become an industry that has become self resilient over the years."
“There has been a 7 per cent rise since 2008 in enquiring about new food businesses. In recessionary times it’s quite remarkable. It is a growing market for artisan and niche areas, whether it’s a stall in Georges Street Arcade or selling a commodity to another manufacturing centre.”
Farming is also an area that has been growing; we supply the UK with 3 out of 5 of their mushrooms while Ireland produces over 15% of the world’s infant formula. Pat Smith, General Secretary of the Irish Farmer’s Association pointed out why he thinks Ireland is still a fighting force when it comes to food.
“The one thing I learned from the farming community, we are just short of 90,000 farmers and a lot of these people are entrepreneurial and innovative. There are many companies like the Kerry Group who are well managed business and have seen constant growth. We have very strong things to sell from the quality of our product, the animal welfare standard and the environment standard.”
 So there we have it, a cheerful start to what we hope will be an ongoing debate – but is this good news justified? Is there a market big enough to support the rise in artisan producers? Do you have any opinions? Leave a comment and continue the discussion – or drop back soon for more updates on some of the issues raised in the first of the For Food's Sake discussions.

(And don't forget to put May 26th in your diary for the next one. Details TBC in terms of theme and panellists, but same time, same place. See you there!)

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