Thursday 5 December 2019

A recipe for success: How Irish food and drink brands are taking on the world

Pictured: John O'Brien, Avril Twomey and Valerie Kingston from Glenilen Farm. Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019.
Pictured: John O'Brien, Avril Twomey and Valerie Kingston from Glenilen Farm. Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019.

The food and drink industry may be Ireland’s largest indigenous industry but a new generation of Irish brands and producers are now flying the flag on the international stage.

The innovation, ambition and entrepreneurship of these brands was on display this week at the Bord Bia Food & Drink Awards 2019. The awards are designed to recognise innovation and excellence in the industry, with nine winners being chosen from across the island.

The Irish public have become much more discerning when it comes to their food and drink choices in recent years and this has helped to sustain an emerging market for premium products. John Fanning, Chair of Bord Bia Brand Forum and one of the judges at this year’s Bord Bia Food & Drink Awards, believes that the public’s evolving tastes have forced producers to raise their game.

One trend among this year’s entrants was the way that brands are now embracing product development and innovation, while also improving the way they share their brand stories.

“That’s what the Brand Forum and these awards are about,” explains Mr Fanning. “It’s encouraging the companies to be more professional in all aspects of marketing, from innovation and new product development through to packaging and how they present their product, and then how they communicate the advantages of the product and develop a brand image through marketing, communications, advertising and social media.”

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John Fanning, Chair of Bord Bia Brand Forum

Bringing Irish products to a wider audience

With the threat of Brexit still looming, this new professionalism is raising standards across the industry. This has helped producers to target overseas markets and aim for success outside of the domestic and UK markets.

“One of the most encouraging aspects of this year’s winners was the number of Irish companies – not just in the export award category - who are now making a serious attempt at exporting,” added Mr Fanning.

One such company was the winner of the Brand Marketing Award, The Shed Distillery, which produces Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin. Called a “brilliant success” by the judges, it has become Ireland’s number one export gin despite being in production for just three years.

“One of the most encouraging things from the awards is that the newest Irish companies are geared for export from day one and Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin would probably be the best example of that. The distillery is not even five-years-old and 70pc of their product is exported. Ambition and taking risks are extremely important if you want success.”

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Pictured: Barry Cullen, Head of Sales, and Greg Devlin from Silver Hill Farm, who won the Export Award. Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019.

Winner of the Export Growth Award, Silver Hill Farm in Emyvale, Co Monaghan, is another export success story and it currently exports 20,000 ducks per week into more than 150 Asian restaurants.

“If you order Peking Duck in Bejing in an upmarket restaurant, the chances are that it might be coming from Silver Hill Farm in Co Monaghan. That just shows how seriously Irish food and drink companies are now taking exports.”

It wasn’t just exporters that shone this year, with Keeling Select picking up the Domestic Success Award. Established in 2017, it now has 125 employees and it was praised for the “highly-imaginative” approach to fresh food distribution.

A move to premium goods

Mr Fanning points out that producers who export premium, high quality products enhance Ireland’s image on the world stage as well as boosting employment and revenue at home. Many of this year’s winners are now selling premium products and this is one way for Irish firms to compete at a global level.

“Ireland is too small a country to be able to supply mass market products around the world so our best bet is premium products. There are obviously advantages there as you’re getting a better price.

“If they’re strongly branded, you’re creating loyalty. You’re not dependent on one buyer overseas because your buyers are the total population. You’re developing a loyalty to Irish brands which is much more sustainable in the long term.”

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Pictured: Philip Martin, Founder and CEO of Blanco Nino

Take the winner of the Future Leader Award, Philip Martin, who is CEO of the premium Mexican food brand Blanco Niño at the age of just 31. With a family background in organic farming and the licensed trade, his passion for real food and enterprise were fostered from an early age.

Winner of the Consumer Insight Award, Glenilen Farm, is another example and their yoghurt brand can be found on leading supermarket shelves.

“This is a small, highly successful company based on a family farm in West Cork, selling into the UK market in upmarket retailers like Waitrose and they conducted a fairly detailed study of all of their operations and ended up with new market innovation proposals, new packaging to make brand names stand out.”

Rewarding sustainability and inclusion

Issues like sustainability are increasingly playing a part in consumer decisions and the awards have two categories recognising achievements in this area.

Heineken Ireland won the Sustainability Project Impact Award for their excellence in corporate and public sustainability. Meanwhile, ABP Food Group in Ardee, Co Louth, won the overall Sustainability Award for reaching ambitious sustainability commitments ahead of schedule.

This was also the first year of the Diversity & Inclusion Award, which was won by Diageo and Dawn Meats.

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Pictured: Gill Higgins, Niall Browne CEO, Richard Clinton and Philip Tallon from Dawn Meats. Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019.

“This is the first year we’ve had that award,” adds Mr Fanning. “It really rests on a lot of research in business schools around the world which shows that the more diverse and inclusive your employees are, the more likely you are to come up with more creative solutions. There’s definitely a correlation between diversity and the capacity for innovation.”

For the future, one of the challenges facing brands and producers is the speed with which the market is changing. Consumers are better travelled, more discerning and they now have heightened expectations. 

“I think innovation and new product development are going to be critical. All markets are changing very quickly. Younger people have much more diverse tastes than older generations.”

There is also a greater onus on brands to get their marketing messaging right and to target the public across a range of platforms.

“Secondly, the public are incredibly sophisticated in the way they receive marketing messages. So they want entertainment, they want subtlety, they want sophistication and they want very classy copy.

“You have to have a certain amount of subtlety and a lot of sophistication if you want to succeed but it also requires a lot of hard work.”

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Pictured: Fiona Geraghty, Eoin Ryan and Aideen Burke from ABP. Photo Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography Copyright 2019.

Winners of the Bord Bia Food & Drink Awards 2019:

Brand Marketing Award: The Shed Distillery of PJ Rigney, Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim

Consumer Insight Award: Glenilen Farm, Drimoleague, West Cork

Diversity & Inclusion Award: Diageo and Dawn Meats

Domestic Success Award: Keelings Select, St Margarets, Co Dublin

Export Growth Award: Silver Hill Farms, Emyvale, Co Monaghan

Future Leader Award: Philip Martin, Blanco Niño, Co Dublin

Sustainability Award: ABP Food Group, Ardee, Co Louth

Sustainability Project Impact Award: HEINEKEN Ireland, Cork City

You can find out more about the Bord Bia Food & Drinks Awards winners on the Bord Bia website.

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