Moving from small to big in production or preparation is a big step for food businesses. To help small companies move to the next level and to supply more SuperValu stores near them, the retailer set up a Food Academy last November.
With help from the Local Enterprise Offices, Bord Bia and the Food Academy a number of stores is identified in their region, which the producers can then supply directly, and not through SuperValu/Musgrave's central distribution. To date 85 companies have gone through it, learning how to grow sustainably, getting mentoring and advice on branding, packaging, distribution and more through workshops. 15 of those companies at the Ploughing Championships in Co Laois this week.
One of the companies to go through the Food Academy is Nobo. Nobo's Brian Nolan says that selling dairy and gluten free icecream is a bit of a hard sell at an event that has a very high attendance of dairy farmers. But he adds that more people are opening up to the fact that some can not eat dairy products because they are lactose intolerant. He says that they are also conscious of the health benefits the product contains, including coconut milk and avocados. Mr Nolan says the Food Academy suits the different stages of a company and allows greater exposure for its products.
Drummolly Boxty has been going since the 1980s in Co Cavan. Paul Farrelly says the Food Academy helped lead the business to bigger things. The traditional Cavan dish is now entirely gluten free - its only ingredients are potatoes and salt - and Mr Farrelly says that we don't appreciate the "humble spud" as we should. He says the Food Academy makes you "polish your business" in several ways, it opens it to new opportunities where you meet new people with new ideas. He says that SuperValu's core objective is a business based locally supplying their stores, which is managed by a local owner. "People love that", he states.
Former plumber Jimmy Allen of De Roiste Puddings says his family business, based in the Gaeltacht, started about two and a half years ago. His son - a butcher - came up with the idea and as the plumbing business was "tough", Jimmy decided to go into the food business. He says that his product is now in every SuperValu shop in Munster and it has kept his three sons in the country.
Bord Bia's chief executive Aidan Cotter says the organisation's Origin Green programme is the only sustainability programme in the world that operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector and food producers. He says that at farm level, Bord Bia is auditing 43,500 beef farms and 18,000 dairy enterprises. Every farm is audited on an 18 month cycle and carbon footprinted around biodiversity, around water and conservation and management as well as other sustainability measures. He also says that every food processing farm is signing up to developing a three to five year sustainability plan to cover such issues as raw material sourcing and certification, around water waste management, energy emissions as well as social sustainability measures. "This is one of the best places in the world to produce food," Mr Cotter states. The Irish dairy industry has the joint lowest carbon footprint in the European Union, while the beef industry is in the top five, he adds.