Belfast Telegraph – Food and drink firms in Northern Ireland are forced to adapt during coronavirus pandemic
Monday 5th May2020
Source: Belfast Telegraph
The lockdown is forcing food and drink companies here to adapt the way they do business. Virtually everything has changed and is likely to continue to do so. This is the result of cash flow for many companies, especially those supplying hospitality and artisans dependent on outdoor markets, disappearing overnight.
As a result, companies like Dale Farm and Ballylisk Dairies overhauled their sales strategy to engage directly with individual customers through doorstep delivery.
Fresh local seafood from Sea Source, bakery from French Village and vegetables from Millbank Farm are also now available for contactless doorstep delivery.
Smaller companies have had to market products differently and are being driven increasingly online and to make greater use of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Such channels will surely become the ‘new normal’ for food and drink companies of all sizes and categories.
Another significant outcome of the current lockdown is the growing collaboration between SMEs in terms in sharing delivery services and those with e-commerce shops listing products from others lacking such experience.
An excellent example of this is Shortcross Gin providing Long Meadow Cider, Armagh Cider and McCracken’s Real Ales with access to its successful e-commerce shop.
And I was delighted to see Springmount Farm offering raw milk, honey, vegetables and sourdough breads from other local suppliers at the gate of their egg farm. Indeed, many more farms are now delivering directly to consumers.
Pressure is also growing from SMEs for the reopening of food and farmers’ markets.
I would certainly love to see markets open again to these companies especially start-ups with original products.
Markets are a great source of feedback and initial sales for start-ups.
And a steady flow of innovative food and drink products is essential for the sector’s wellbeing and long-term growth.
We’ve been talking to councils about reopening their markets.
While the pressure from producers for markets to resume is understandable, decisions must continue to be guided by health professionals.
Social distancing and payment by card will continue to influence traders and consumers for some time to come.
Demand for direct delivery is having a far reaching impact too on smaller grocery stores and delicatessens, and many, such as Indie Fude, have also embraced social media and contactless delivery.
Restaurants and cafes have sought to generate cash by using social media to a much greater extent and are also offering ‘click and collect’ meals.
And it seems likely that home cooking, which has increased significantly, will continue to strengthen, creating opportunities for SMEs to develop business by selling their products online as ingredients along with original menus. Eating good food at home will continue to grow in popularity.
Food NI has embraced the new channels to help our 400 companies reach a wider audience of consumers here and further afield.
It is heartening to see the collaboration across the sector. I have had my days brightened, and meals enhanced, by deliveries of local fish, beef, flavoured oils, jams and nut butter.
Michele Shirlow is Chief Executive, Food NI
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