Silicon Valley to inspire Irish food innovation

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

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The Irish Food Board (Board Bia) is urging Irish food manufacturers to take risks and experiment in product development by utilising the kind of “regional centres of competition” that helped make Silicon Valley in California the nexus of global software development.

In a report - Pathways for Growth – Board Bia says only innovation, brand building and “co-opetition”​ will allow Irish companies to, “stay ahead of the curve”.

Co-opetition is fed by the idea that Irish businesses, academia and government should work closely together to enable it to maximise resources in an economy dwarfed by many other European and international countries.

The likes of Food for Health Ireland (FHI) (adding value to dairy) and Sea Change (adding value to marine products) are just two initiatives already in place that are built on these ideas.

The report sets out a comprehensive agenda for change, based around the three central themes of collaboration, innovation and branding,” said ​Aidan Cotter, chief executive, Bord Bia.

“They are also accompanied by a set of detailed specific initiatives that, when implemented, would contribute to the achievement of the vision for a world class food and drink industry.Simple as the three themes may appear, they have the capability, when executed in full over a three to five year period to be transformational in their effect​.”

The report is authored by Professor David Bell and Mary Shelman of the Harvard Business School. It can be found here.

Irish issues

The report highlights a small-scale, fragmented food industry, low long-term investment plans and lack of consumer orientation in export markets, as key problems the industry needs to address.

“To counter these challenges, the report goes on to suggest that Irish exporters should be encouraged to collaborate rather than compete (a strategy based around ‘Co-opetition’), while focusing on innovation leading to differentiated market positions and brand building based around customer feedback as a means to capturing greater market value,”​ Board Bia said of the report.

The report suggests propelling ‘brand Ireland’ further into the limelight with the possibility of brand sharing, as branded products, it observes, can earn double the margins of commodities.

“Under co-opetition, (high) quality standards would have to be agreed on, product superiority would need to be closely monitored with consumers, and some investment would need to be made,”​ Board Bia said. “Fortunately the adjective ‘Irish’ already has many positive connotations.”

FHI chief executive officer, Jens Bleiel, said the report provided vindication of the Cork-based group he helped establish last year.

“The report shows that the FHI initiative is the right answer to the questions they raise,” ​he said. “We need to work hard to sort out some operational issues but the overall strategic set-up of FHI proves to be absolutely right.”

FHI has a dairy focus and consists of Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia and Kerry along with the University College Cork, University College Dublin, Teagasc's Moorepark Food Research Centre and the University of Limerick.

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