Bringing small food producers to the policy table

Down District Council Down District Council and the Ulster Business School are working to highlight the needs of smaller players in the agri-food sector.

With interest in and demand for quality local food growing daily, what is the contribution that smaller producers and artisans in the food sector in Northern Ireland can make to the industry? How can the contribution of micro-businesses be better assisted by policy makers across key sectors from agri-food to tourism?

These are key questions being addressed by LOCFOOD (Local Food as an Engine for Local Business), a trans-national INTERREG IVC Territorial Co-operation project examining policy supporting smaller companies in the food sector. Amongst the 13 project partners from nine European regions are two Northern Ireland partners: Down District Council and the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster.

locfood_logo_pms Partners have been working collectively to survey food sector micro-businesses (under 10 employees) to identify their current business capability, capacity for innovation, and the actions that can assist in the development of high quality local food businesses catering for local, niche or new markets.

Using a common model approach, each regional partner has identified existing policy support, surveyed local food companies and identified a series of company and policy best practices from their region. These are being used as a basis for sharing information and will also form the core of a best practice guide for policy makers at local, regional and international levels.

EU flag2colors Interviews were carried out with owner-managers across Northern Ireland, including small food companies in the South East Economic Development (SEED) area. The project findings suggest that smaller companies are more innovative than is commonly understood but they have difficulty in accessing the business development support that they need, either to grow or to promote themselves as a unique and key part of the Northern Ireland tourism offering. Smaller producers’ skills most commonly lie in production with a corresponding lack of marketing and sales expertise. Small producers are a disparate group spread across all the traditional food industry sub-sectors and do not have a distinct, organised voice.

INTERREG_IVC_LOGO_Copy The Northern Ireland LOCFOOD project team have sought to highlight the needs of this sector through submissions to the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s consultation and resulting ‘Going for Growth’ strategy. A submission was also made to the consultation on the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme, drawing from the research into small producers’ needs.

Recommendations included the need to: build small processors’ capacity to meet retail, food service and public procurement requirements; assist local producers in supplying the growing market for speciality cheeses; market local food through ‘food stories’ and promote food tourism; and build collaborative networks of small producers.

DDC LOGO HI RES The project is committed to not only identifying policy improvements to support smaller food producers but also to initiating implementation of policy improvements within the three-year timescale of the project, due to complete at the end of 2014. To address the key issues identified from the project, LOCFOOD Northern Ireland is now planning a conference for May/June 2014 to bring local food producers and key policy influencers from trade bodies, local and central government together to identify actions (including those identified from best practice in partner European regions) that can be implemented for the benefit of smaller food producers and the local economy in Northern Ireland.

For further information contact:

Lynsey McKitterick, Ulster Business

School (l.mckitterick@ulster.ac.uk)

Ulster_BS_logo_col David Patterson, Down District Council

(david.patterson@downdc.gov.uk)

Project website: www.locfood.no

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