Business

Time is right to capitalise on Northern Ireland's food and drink

This year has been set aside to celebrate Northern Ireland's food and drink offering, such as the traditional Ulster fry
Carol Magill

THIS is a great year to be marketing the food and drinks industry in Northern Ireland (NI).

Increasing globalisation provides our food and drinks companies with the opportunity to highlight the quality of their products across the world. This spells good news for NI's food export sales and tourism industry.

Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) demonstrate that NI's food processing sector is on an upward curve, with total sales increasing from £4,222 million in 2012 to an estimated £4,772m in 2014. DARD minister Michelle O'Neill stated that there was “clear potential for further growth in this sector in the longer term, driven particularly by growth in export markets seeking high quality, safe and traceable food”.

That was the rationale behind the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink 2016: an integrated marketing campaign promoting NI as a quality food destination. This highlights NI's artisan products created by small producers while also supporting multi-million pound agri-food businesses export on a global scale.

Artisan produce can and has travelled far on the back of a strong brand powered by social media activity. Food tourism and consumer interest in international cuisines, fuelled by the rapid growth in social media, is a trend food producers can capitalise on.

People from around the world have become ardent foodies, sharing experiences and photos on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. So it's an ideal time for NI food companies to ensure they are part of this virtual dining experience.

Tourism Northern Ireland has realised the potential to promote NI as a quality destination by focusing on its food and beverage culture. Along with partners such as Food NI, it has set out to market NI as a culinary paradise. In global food tourism, the key word is authenticity – visitors want an experience that reflects the culinary traditions of the region.

This has a knock-on effect with the local population becoming more and more interested in their heritage. In NI, we have a lot to be proud of – with our Lough Neagh eels, Strangford mussels, Glenarm smoked salmon, Comber potatoes and Armagh apples to name but a few indigenous products. Across the island, new foods are being created and not just in heritage sectors. Some of NI's most successful exporters tap into global health trends or use a new process to create enhanced consumer convenience.

The Northern Ireland Executive has recognised the opportunities that exist in food and drink marketing via their preparations towards establishing a new strategic marketing body for the sector. This new structure will pull together much work taking place already and create further momentum in this important area.

CIM is focused on supporting all business in maintaining and creating new marketing opportunities and is planning a major food and drink event in early summer. In the meantime, it's free for member events offer monthly updates on topical issues.

On May 10, CIM's focus is on measuring the metrics - using apps in market research with an interactive app demonstration and discussion. Then, in June CIM has a further session on legal aspects of marketing, supported by Cleaver Fulton Rankin, this network event will look into current and developing case law on copyright and intellectual property.

The morning seminar will provide guidance on what companies and individuals can do to ensure they manage the risks of marketing their products and services in the digital world and will highlight steps companies may wish to consider (especially the creative industries) to protect their work.

:: Carol Magill is the Chartered Institute of Marketing network manager for Ireland

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