Farmers need to stay informed about emerging food trends
Published 14/09/2016 | 02:30
The 20pc growth in organic food sales in Ireland in the past year is broadly attributed to people who are making food choices based on health and well-being. These customers are essentially looking for high quality, natural food.
This trend is similar in other countries reporting growing sales of organic food. Maybe it is time to put marketing and food trends on all agriculture courses around the country to teach farmers and food producers how to keep an eye on the markets that they are ultimately supplying.
The growing demand for both quality and convenience poses additional challenges for food producers. Consumers still want traceability, information about production, ingredients and nutritional quality of their food, but this can be difficult to deliver with convenience food.
Technology does offer some innovative ideas in terms of novel food production, but in many cases it can bring more problems to the table than solutions.
The recession in Ireland saw a return to simple meals based on good quality ingredients - both at home and on menus in restaurants throughout the country. This is a positive step and one that farmers should exploit more when looking to market their products.
Chefs influence food consumption and trends. The endorsement by top chefs of high quality Irish ingredients has been hugely beneficial in selling Ireland as a food destination, both at home and abroad.
This is vital for the farming community as it means food they are producing is highly sought after, but this should also be reflected in the prices farmers get.
There are also many events and gatherings showcasing Irish food around the country.
This past weekend saw the Airfield Festival of Food take place at Airfield's 38ac farm in Dundrum, Dublin.
Stalls showed the variety and quality of Irish food, and workshops explored how we can produce and consume food more sustainably. A highlight later in the calendar year is Food on the Edge, where JP McMahon (from the Michelin star Aniar restaurant in Galway) brings chefs from around to world to listen, talk and debate about the future of food around the planet.
This takes place in Galway on October 24-25 and is a fantastic opportunity to put Irish cuisine centre stage.
While few farmers will be spotted at either event, what farmers are doing on a daily basis - creating great quality food - is what is being celebrated at events like this around the country.
Grace Maher is development officer with the IOFGA, iofga.org
'Supplying organic food has given us a unique edge'
The Slieve Aughty activity centre has been in operation in Kylebrack, Loughrea, Co Galway since the early 1980s.
It was established by Esther Zyderlaan who came to Ireland from Holland in the 1970s and began making cheese, which she sold at the Galway market.
The business has since grown, as has her family, and now offers riding, walking, and cycling holidays, mainly to a European clientele.
The increasing demand for quality, local food and accommodation has resulted in the newest aspect of the business, namely the Three Towers Eco-House and Organic Kitchen.
The kitchen is certified organic with IOFGA, and both the eco -house and riding centre have been awarded the Ecotourism silver award for sustainable family holidays.
For proprietors, Esther and her daughter Merel, it was a logical step in the development of the business.
"Our horse riding and walking holidays have proved to be a real success over the years, but it was clear to us that we could do more so eventually we decided on the incorporation of the eco guest house with a certified organic kitchen," says Merel.
"The majority of our clients are from mainland Europe, they expect organic and local ingredients and want to see recognised credentials on the food we supply, and certified organic meets those credentials."
The nine-bedroom eco-house, with integrated dining area and bar, has a certified organic vegetable and fruit garden attached.
"It has not always been easy to get a regular supply of Irish organic products," says Merel.
"Going through distributors can push costs up beyond what consumers are willing to pay, so we try to source direct from producers and then import goods we cannot easily source locally."
The organic aspect of the business opened in 2012 and is proving a valuable attraction for the centre.
"We are a business in a very rural area and the fact that we can supply good quality food and accommodation on site is a real asset," says Merel.
"People come here and relax and enjoy some good food after an active day, it has really given our business a unique edge to be able to offer organic food and eco-lodging.
"Over our many years in business we know what people are looking for when they visit rural Ireland, they want a truly green memorable experience and we can offer a high quality, affordable service, and they come back time and time again - so we must be getting it right," adds Esther.