JOE GILL: Cork has all the ingredients to be global food hub

The Cork region, and UCC in particular should become more energised about the global food and drink industry, writes Joe Gill

The global food and drink industry is gigantic. It employs hundreds of thousands of people, is endlessly innovative and has especially strong momentum in fast growing regions such as Asia and Africa.

As an industry to engage with there are few more interesting and that is why Cork, and UCC in particular, should be more energised about it in my opinion.

We all know that Munster has deep roots in the global food and drink industry. It was Cork that established the first standards for butter in the British Empire during the 1700s.

The dairy, meat, seafood and whiskey sectors have an extensive presence across the south of Ireland. Much of our international food and drink success is connected to owners and managers that emanate from the south.

We know, too, that University College Cork has a fine track record in producing food scientists that have gone on to lead many companies and co-ops.

The academic work taking place currently around dairy and gut science, just two examples, is noted and recognised in many circles. Yet, in business I do not encounter many references to Cork as a recognised centre of excellence or innovation in the area of food and beverage industry and strategy. That is where an enormous opportunity exists.

Universities around Ireland are all hungry to grow and expand. In daily work I come across various approaches from academia about expansion plans, particularly by business schools.

The problem is that all of these look too similar. Everyone wants a business school that gets a reputation worldwide in ‘business’. I’d argue such an approach will not work because resources are too limited and fragmented in Ireland to secure global recognition under the broad banner of business.

However, Ireland and Cork do have a unique heritage that is recognised in many quarters around food and beverage.

It is that heritage which should be championed to create a business school that has a ‘go-to’ reputation for undergraduates and post-graduates who have ambition to lead food and beverage corporates worldwide.

To achieve that objective UCC and Cork City have to work hand in hand. There are a myriad of initiatives that could take place in pursuit of that goal, including; hosting an annual food and beverage business conference that attracts globally recognised leaders to debate and network about big themes in food and drink; a sequence of high profile position papers published by UCC students addressing groundbreaking topics in the sector, and; specialist courses designed for executives in food and drink companies worldwide.

If that plan was pursued it could be augmented by joined-up programmes which expose students, academics and young executives to the large and small food and drink producers that exist around Munster.

Creating an agri-food eating hub in the region that promotes and encourages high quality restaurants would help too. This would complement a vibe that makes Cork synonymous with leading edge thinking and research about the optimal business models and strategies needed to succeed in the decades ahead.

If Cork and UCC could shape such a strategy it would attract students from across the world.

Why not aim to have African, Asian and Latin American students and executives choosing UCC as the university of choice for undergraduate and postgraduate food and drink business study? Why not aim to have the agri-food companies in the Fortune 500 consider Cork as a worthy destination for executive training programmes?

The subject matter that can be encapsulated within food and drink is very broad. Climate change, smart farming technology, commodity market analysis and nutraceuticals are just some of the subjects that need deep dive analysis and research.

Not only do companies and co-ops need answers on these issues but so too do governments and financial investors. All of these can be brought to bear as supporters and funders of a Cork Food and Beverage Campus.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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