Lucy Ryan: There is a renaissance in Irish food

Podcast Ep 207: There is a renewed confidence within the Irish food business, says Lucy Ryan, head of Food & Drink Sector at Bank of Ireland.

Irish food producers are rightly optimistic about their future prospects and are investing in their future as the shopping public focus on quality and sustainable produce.

Lucy Ryan, head of Food & Drink at Bank of Ireland, spoke with the ThinkBusiness Podcast about the results of the latest Love Irish Food survey.

“There’s just more of an appreciation really of the many great Irish foods and beverages that are out there”

According to the 2024 Love Irish Food and Bank of Ireland SME Food Barometer, Seven in ten (71%) Irish food businesses are planning to launch new products or services in the next 12 months.

The survey, conducted by Love Irish Food and Bank of Ireland, which gathered responses from over 100 Irish food SMEs, found that 80% of Irish food and drink producer respondents are confident in their businesses for the year ahead and are predicting future growth.

Business innovation

The biggest expansion areas are expected to be in business innovations (25%), the attraction of new customers (21%) and the development of new products (21%).

Six in ten Irish food businesses are planning to invest in enhanced brand awareness measures and cutting-edge commercial digital strategies, while over half of the companies surveyed reported production automation and operational efficiencies as key investment areas.

Despite the optimistic outlook 85% of companies cited rising input costs and inflationary pressures as the biggest threats to growth, alongside wage inflation (66%) and labour availability (55%) – with a lack of appropriate skills and high accommodation costs the top concerns when it comes to labour availability.

The survey indicated that retaining staff remains a key priority for Irish food businesses. While 59% adopt the fully onsite model, 91% of those employing a hybrid/remote working model want to keep it.

Savouring the taste of innovation

Speaking with Ryan, I point out how from recent events such as last year’s Blas na hEireann, it was evident that there was a growing confidence amongst food producers, especially in terms of the natural ingredients in Irish food. So is there a renaissance happening in the Irish food sector?

“I think there is something of a renaissance, but it hasn’t been sudden or happened overnight. It has been happening over the past 20 or 30 years. We probably didn’t have the same kind of ‘mass’ of real quality Irish foods in the same way as we have garnered over recent years. I think there’s a huge sense of appreciation as to the many artisan and some of the bigger producers who really understand what good quality food means and have spent a lot of time and energy producing and putting many great foods on the market.

“In times past we looked to Spain, Italy and France and many other countries where they really appreciated the simple basic foods they produced. I think we now have that in spaces and we have developed a level of confidence around it.

“Looking back to the 1980s we didn’t produce farmhouse cheeses for example. But now look at all the amazing farmhouse cheeses that are being produced around the country and are being exported. I think it’s something of a learned appreciation.

“The foods we are producing as a country are really fantastic and we have found ways to appreciate them. I think with Blas na hEireann awarding and recognising many of those producers it has really helped people to love Irish food and support and give confidence to the producers.

“There’s just more of an appreciation really of the many great Irish foods and beverages that are out there.”

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John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.