Joe Gill: Heritage can play big role in shaping food sector’s future

Over the past week, a food festival took place in Cork to launch the Old Butter Roads Food Trail. 

The idea is to use the traditional butter roads that led to Cork City via Kanturk, Macroom, Mallow, and Mitchelstown as reference points for high-quality locally produced food and beverages.

A series of events are planned during this summer to help promote food and local eateries for tourists and Irish people alike. Presumably social media will be employed to drive the initiative and give it oxygen as it evolves.

This idea is a useful reminder of the role Ireland, and Cork in particular, has played in developing the food industry not just in Ireland but globally too.

The butter market in Cork was originally established in 1730 but had moved indoors by 1769.

It became the most important supplier of butter in Britain and Ireland and exported produce across the world.

At its height in 1880, the butter market was selling 500,000 casks per year with a value of more than £1.5m (£171m or €202m in today’s terms). It closed in 1920 but the co-operative movement picked up the cudgels and went on to help develop Ireland as a highly regarded source for dairy produce of all kinds.

Heritage of this type is invaluable in a world where authenticity is becoming a scarce commodity.

By tapping into its origins today’s community of both producers and restaurants have the capability of reaching an audience only imagined less than 20 years ago.

The rapid progression of the internet has opened up vast marketplaces for all providers of goods and services and Ireland’s food industry is well positioned to exploit the opportunities.

It used to be the case that scale was necessary for any food business to thrive in but the development of the web allows suppliers to access consumers at costs that are a fraction of those that applied until recently.

It is not hard now to find a high-end web design and hosting service at a price that the smallest food producer or restaurant can afford.

The fast-changing freight industry is providing means by which producers can ship produce at prices much lower that previously was required.

I know one entrepreneur who has developed an innovative new protein bar. He has outsourced its production and tapped into Amazon as a means of distributing across Europe at a low cost. His business is thriving.

The Old Butter Roads Trail has plenty of potential content to work with. Cork is festooned with quality food and beverage producers. There are a myriad of eateries in the county.

Couple that with a natural landscape and tourism infrastructure which is the envy of many parts of the world and you can cook up a receipe that appeals to visitors from around the globe.

Making it work over time will need a lot of energy and determination by those who are behind it.

Maintaining a high standard will be one challenge, while having a plan that consistently brings forward events and initiatives that keep the Old Butter Roads Trail in consumer’s minds will be essential.

Over the past week, a series of talks and food tastings have been deployed to get a profile for the project. A relentless focus on growing its brand will be needed to sustain that momentum.

Doing so at a time when butter’s health and taste attributes are enjoying a significant resurgence can be no harm either.

On a much bigger scale, you can see how the Wild Atlantic Way has snowballed in tourism markets through a consistent and sophisticated promotion of its merits.

A similar, if smaller, level of dynamism should be employed to help the Old Butter Roads Trail establish itself as a fixture on the tourism map.

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


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