Boyne Valley food export hub set to create 2,500 jobs
State strategic fund in 'advanced' talks to help create 'Silicon Valley of food'
The establishment of a major food industry hub in the Boyne Valley region is set to create 2,500 jobs by 2025, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The Boyne Valley Food Innovation District (BVFID) - which has a multi-disciplinary advisory board with key industry figures such as Bord Bia chairman Michael Carey and former Largo foods director Ray Coyle - is at an "advanced stage of talks" with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF).
The €8bn sovereign fund is set to become a key financial backer of small and medium food companies that the Co Meath food initiative expects to attract and grow.
Local authority business organisation Meath Enterprise is preparing to build a 27,000 sq ft advanced technology building to support short-term needs, while planners have rezoned 70 acres in Navan to add to an existing 50-acre land bank earmarked for the project.
BVFID head Gary O'Meara said that the organisation - a joint venture between local authorities, state agencies, universities and the private sector - expects to shortly announce its first two major international deals. Local firms Epicom and Superlife are finalising deals to open export channels to China and Scandinavia respectively. BVFID plans to expand these channels to other companies.
"This region can become the Silicon Valley of food," said O'Meara. "The potential is huge - €10m has been invested to date, with €50m to €100m investment likely."
Talks are at an advanced stage with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund with a view to it becoming a BVFID investment partner, he said.
"This could see ISIF invest in high-potential companies that can scale to meet exporting opportunities that we are establishing in China, Scandinavia and other countries," he said. BVFID aims to open new global export channels to secure contracts for Irish food producers, said O'Meara.
"We'll match opportunities and contracts to existing Irish SMEs with the necessary capability and ambition to scale into global markets. If we can't find companies to match opportunities then we will build a new startup food company to respond to the market need," said O'Meara.
Bord Bia's Michael Carey - founder of Drogheda-based East Coast Bakehouse - said he was hopeful BVFID could provide investment opportunities for his company.
Michael Carey said that being involved in the Boyne Valley initiative was “not just about being nice guys”.
“We are looking for opportunities. We can help provide funding and help structure their fundraising exercise. I know some of the other entrepreneurs who are involved on the steering group have a similar attitude.”
Carey said the involvement of ISIF as a funding partner was “absolutely crucial” and would encourage private investors to get involved. He had already identified opportunities around the initiative and would be “surprised if in the next six to nine months we haven’t done something”, he said.
Carey said he hoped to be able to assist in identifying the startups with the greatest potential for the project.
“We have really good contracts with customers, a network of agents around the world, we spot trends and understand things that are happening in the sector that could well be of benefit to others starting out. A colleague of mine in the industry likens it to ‘putting air in the tyres’ of startup food companies,” said Carey.
Largo Foods and Tayto Park founder Ray Coyle said BVFID is “a complete no brainer”.
“The rich hinterland around the River Boyne has massive potential to play to its strengths,” he said. “Ireland must play to its strengths in order to compete on the world stage and producing quality food products from our fertile and clean environment is the way to go. There will always be a demand for quality food abroad and I always felt that there is huge potential for this sector to greatly increase exports.”
Coyle said the Boyne Valley region already has a large base of successful and proven entrepreneurs in the food sector.
“The ingredients are already in place within this initiative to sprout new startups, grow existing SME’s and create thousands of sustainable jobs. I’m looking forward to playing my part to sustain this sector for future generations of business people,” said Coyle.
Another advisory board member, Owen Brennan of Devenish Nutrition, said his company could bring “a combination of experience and some resources” to BVFID.
“Our operation started with three people and grew to 600 so there are lots of things that we can point people towards that will speed up some of the things they need to do scale to meet the opportunities. One of the most important resources is expertise and we have a highly skilled technical and commercial team that can help people here.”
Brennan said his company was “absolutely” open to investing in companies as part of the initiative.
Sunday Indo Business