Irish SME Food Barometer signals positive sectoral outlook despite Covid-19 and Brexit challenges, a new study from Love Irish Food and PwC Ireland reveals.
75pc of Irish food SMEs expect revenue growth in the year ahead as investment is set to intensify, according to the Love Irish Food/PwC 2021 Irish SME Food Barometer.
Irish food SMEs are positive about the year ahead and many plan to invest, emphasising the continued importance of the UK market.
“A key opportunity for the sector is the area of sustainability. Consumers have become far more sophisticated when it comes to sustainable choices”
The 2021 Irish SME Food Barometer by Love Irish Food and PwC Ireland of close to 70 Irish food SMEs found that 69pc of respondents do not intend delaying investment in the year ahead, compared to 62pc who did delay investment over the last 12 months due to pandemic uncertainty.
More than a quarter (26pc) score the UK as their most important export market, with 69pc considering the Republic of Ireland their most important territory for growth.
Close to two-thirds (60pc) state the importance of environmental sustainability has increased in 2021.
65pc of companies are confident the economy will improve over the next 12 months, despite challenges related to COVID-19 and Brexit, up from just 16pc in late 2019. However, some caution is in the air as these positive economic growth forecasts are tempered by 22pc of companies who believe economic growth will decline in the year ahead.
“With the prospects of the re-opening for our economy over the coming months, the research reveals cautious optimism for business prospects for Irish food SMEs,” said Owen McFeely, Director, PwC Retail & Consumer Practice.
“These organisations have seen major disruption in their businesses for more than a year and, with plans for investment, they are now looking forward to turning a corner.”
Food for thought
Separately, the positive sentiment expressed in the new research findings on what is one of Ireland’s largest and most important indigenous industries indicates that there will be a significant uplift in the levels of capital investment made by food and beverage companies, following a significant stall during the pandemic.
Underlining the growth agenda for Irish food SMEs, 69pc of respondents stated that they will not delay investment over the coming 12 months, compared to 62pc who said they did delay such investment in the last 12 months, representing a dramatic turnaround.
Furthermore, 20pc of respondents confirmed that they are planning to launch new products or services to drive business growth in 2021. A total of 11pc will enter new markets. Other activities to drive business growth include implementing operational efficiencies (19pc) with a further (11pc) aiming to achieve growth by investing in digital strategies.
Almost one in ten (8pc) will seek price increases, up from 6pc last year, highlighting the ongoing challenge for many Irish companies who are grappling with tight margins and cost competitiveness. The growth of volume at the expense of value continues to place huge pressure on the food manufacturing sector.
The impact of Covid-19 (58pc) is the greatest threat for the food and beverage sector, according to the SMEs surveyed, fuelled by economic uncertainty, and associated labour issues.
Volatile commodity prices (43pc) are also a significant threat for food and drink SMEs. This is likely a reflection of uncertainties in global and local supply chains. Almost one in four (24pc) are concerned about Brexit.
Meanwhile, despite the varied challenges posed to the sector by Brexit, the UK is the most important export market for Irish food SMEs, followed by the European Union. 26pc of respondents said that the UK continues to be their most important market. Notably, almost a quarter (24pc) stated that more than one-fifth of their company’s revenues in 2021 will come from trade with the UK compared to 19pc in 2019. 69pc consider the Republic of Ireland their most important territory for growth.
“Notwithstanding a difficult trading environment, it is encouraging to see evidence of optimism amongst food sector SMEs regarding the potential for their own company’s performance in the sector, reflecting factors they feel a greater degree of control over,” said Kieran Rumley, executive director, Love Irish Food.
“As anticipated, Covid-19 related issues remain the greatest concern for companies operating in the food and drinks industry.
“However, volatile commodity prices now clearly pose a new and significant threat to companies, especially in the context of Covid-19 related costs imposed on such businesses more recently.
“It is unlikely that SMEs will be able to shoulder the burden of these additional costs for long and may eventually be forced to pass these on as consumer price increases. Love Irish Food is working to increase the support offered to companies throughout 2021, with greater retailer support in the interface with the retail grocery sector, as part of its mission to advance the future of Irish food and drink brands.”
The sizzle on sustainability
Environmental sustainability remains high on the agenda for Irish food and drink SMEs with 60pc of those surveyed stating that the importance of having an environmental sustainability strategy in place has increased this year.
In addition, over half (57pc) of companies confirmed that they have a sustainability plan in place to make improvements throughout 2021. Key areas of investment include energy consumption (22pc), packaging reduction (18pc) and water usage (16pc).
McFeely said that developing a sustainability strategy is critical as consumers have clearly indicated their willingness to engage with brands that promote their sustainable credentials. This is in line with recent PwC global research indicating that 55pc of consumers agreed that they buy from companies that are conscious of protecting the planet, and 54pc agreed that they buy products with eco-friendly packaging.
For grocery shopping, in particular, consumers across the board say that they’re willing to pay a price premium for healthier options (55pc), local produce (50pc) and sustainable packaging (46pc), regardless of shopping online or in-store.
“A key opportunity for the sector is the area of sustainability. Consumers have become far more sophisticated when it comes to sustainable choices. Irish Food SMEs are and will be dealing with customers who want to know what they are doing to play their part to protect our environment. Building a sustainable business is not a passing fad. Knowing what consumers now value and changing the business model will define their long-term sustainability and growth.”
Pictured at top (from left): Emily MacDonnell, Senior Associate, PwC Ireland Retail & Consumer Practice; Kieran Rumley, Executive Director, Love Irish Food; and Owen McFeely, Director, PwC Ireland Retail & Consumer Practice
By John Kennedy (email@example.com)
Published: 27 April 2021