JOE GILL: Cork is ideal for a global food finance gathering

I would strongly argue that Cork is the best location for a global food conference, says Joe Gill.

The Cork Butter Exchange hosted a lively debate on the future of the Irish food industry in University College Cork last week.

The participants were asked to discuss ways in which the industry could be promoted.

One of the ideas floated was to establish an annual world-ranking food finance conference that positions Ireland at the front of ideas and trends for financing the worldwide food industry.

The idea is as follows: The ministers for food and finance announce a new annual three-day conference that will bring the best brains from finance and food around the world to Ireland.

The conference — the Global Food Finance Summit — would be supported by all the relevant state agencies including Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia, the Department of Agriculture, and other government departments and agencies, alongside the private co-ops and companies that produce and manage food assets from Ireland.

The plenary sessions would include debates and speeches by leading business leaders, financiers, entrepreneurs, as well as innovators from across the global food industry.

Their brief would be to provide a leadership of ideas around how food is currently produced, manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide.

In parallel with the main session, there would be break-out meetings to focus on specific topics while an overarching networking service would connect financiers with entrepreneurs to secure investment for both Irish and non-Irish food businesses.

The objective would be to establish the global food finance conference as the go-to annual major event which attracts global media attention from international business news media such as Bloomberg, the Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as academic and food journals that focus on food innovation.

Templates for events of this type already exist.

Each January for the past 20 years, the leading annual global air finance conference has taken place in Dublin when up to 2,000 high spending delegates descend on the city.

The Web Summit, when it was in Dublin, did a similar service for technology.

I would strongly argue that Cork is the best location for a global food conference.

It could be hosted on the campus of UCC over three days each September before the return of the students and after the peak tourism season has passed.

In that way, hotels and restaurants in Cork City and county can be filled with delegates from around the world.

The global food finance summit should debate food trends in Africa and Asia, as well as issues in Ireland or Europe, because the Irish food industry has to think on a global basis if it wants to prosper and secure its future long-term.

While doing so, we should be showcasing the best restaurants, bars, and gastro-pubs in the Cork region.

To kick this off, positive and energetic leadership is needed by a number of key people.

The president of UCC should put his hand up to promote the project, given that institution’s long history in educating some of the best minds in the Irish food industry.

A number of private and co-op food entities should volunteer to send significant numbers of delegates to provide the project with the necessary scale and substance.

Large financial, auditing and legal firms that support food industries around the world should wade in too, providing sponsorship and support.

With that package, a global food finance summit could go out and secure the business leaders from the world’s largest food companies and institutional asset managers.

It would place Cork as an important date in the global food finance diary from 2019, with the aim of making it the premier annual event.

If the global food finance summit can be lit up by the two relevant ministers for food and finance, it could build its standing as the best conference around for food entrepreneurs and the investors who are willing to back them.

I could imagine major investments being announced at the global food finance summit, connecting manufacturers, retailers and primary producers from all major economies.

If that happened, it could close the circle started in Cork during the 1770s when the first global marketplace for butter was nurtured and developed.

Designing a 2019 version of that is a challenge worth taking.

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


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