Big data holds key to achieving agri-food growth targets

Dr Geoff Simmons, senior lecturer, Queen’s University, Belfast Management School

BIG data can help Northern Ireland's food and drink sector each ambitious growth targets, a leading expert has said.

Marketing strategies based on sound intelligence are required to achieve the targets set out in the Going for Growth report, the fifth annual Appetite for Growth conference heard.

Hundreds of delegates attended the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (Nifda) organised event at Craigavon Civic Centre.

Keynote speaker was Dr Geoff Simmons of the Queen's University, Belfast Management School.

He is involved in a three-year project supporting agri-food firms to improve their marketing skills and market knowledge.

“There’s a lack of understanding amongst local agri-food firms, particularly the SMEs about what marketing really is,” he said.

“Smaller companies typically don’t invest in market intelligence such as dunnhumby, Mintel, and Kantar Worldpanel, whereas their larger competitors do.

"This puts SMEs at a distinct disadvantage. Overall the sector is great at focusing on production and driving efficiency, but smaller companies, as well as some larger firms, need to improve their capacity ‘to do’ marketing in a more systematic and less ad hoc way.

“Within a rapidly changing, increasingly competitive environment, the case for a better understanding of consumer needs and wants is strong. Companies need to utilise the market intelligence available to them to analyse who their consumer are and what they want, before they decide on the best consumer segmentation, targeting positioning strategy and marketing mix for their products.

"Market intelligence has the power to transform businesses but only with a firm grasp of how to do marketing, and through this project we are aiming to integrate them."

Tony Brown from Sysco Software extolled the benefits of accessing big data to inform marketing.

“Many companies are paying to capture data but failing to integrate it and utilise it properly," he said.

"Making data work efficiently is essentially learning how to make money and save money from it. If you are paying to capture data, then it is imperative that you utilise it in order to drive commercial advantage."

The conference also heard the preliminary findings of a Deloitte report, commissioned by Nifda, into the effect of Brexit on the sector.

Officially launched later in the year, the report will incorporate feedback and concerns from the local industry and explore priorities for the executive in relation to supporting the industry.

Nifda chairman Declan Billington added: “As an industry we must influence thinking on government policies post-Brexit and help to shape the future for the benefit of our industry.

WThis report will assist us in taking our case before the Northern Ireland Executive, presenting hard facts and opportunities which must be addressed if this vibrant industry is to continue to thrive.”

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