Supporting Our Inspirational Food Companies To Tackle Current Business Challenges

The advent of Coronavirus has forced most of our member companies to adapt they the way they do business. And very many of them have responded to the massive challenge with great determination and with tremendous success. Their approach is inspirational.

They’ve had to overhaul their sales strategy in particular, to embrace technology especially social media. Smaller enterprises, which have built their income and become reliant on local markets for cash flow, had to move quickly and decisively when this sales channel was shuttered to them. We’ve seen many introducing doorstep deliveries with great success. Others are now selling on the internet and some have achieved success with online retailers including Amazon and Ocado.

I know that councils involved in closing markets are now being called up to reverse this decision. And I am aware that major markets in Britain, such as the iconic Borough Market in London, have remained open during the crisis. Lisburn street market also reopened last Tuesday. I would certainly love to see markets once again (safely) offering opportunities to food companies across Northern Ireland.

We’ve been talking to several local councils about their markets. While I appreciate the pressure from some smaller business for markets to resume, I remain concerned about anything which could lead to a further surge in hospital admissions and fatalities. Decisions must continue to be guided by advice from health professionals. We are also ready to pick up one of our key roles in helping companies to maximise the business opportunities that local markets offer especially for start-up enterprises.

It’s also our hope that smaller companies will continue to develop opportunities through online platforms. This channel is really the way ahead for food and drink companies of all sizes and also offers cost-effective access to external and export markets. What the stay at home rule has done is to lead consumers everywhere to look for, and expect, home delivery of the broadest range of food and drink. This is unlike to change significantly in the future. In fact, I would expect to see more companies developing business through the likes of Amazon in particular.

Smaller and even some much bigger processors have also learned how to market their products effectively online through social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram,Facebook and YouTube. Such channels will surely become the ‘new normalcy’. They require commitment and professionalism to address the increased competition.

Social media and home delivery, furthermore, has become an essential marketing element for delis and indie retailers during the crisis.  We’ve seen these important retailers, especially for local food companies, coming up with hampers and food boxes with customers placing orders on social media and telephone and paying by card or through contactless transaction technology. It would be good to see more of these businesses creating distinctively local food hampers or menu boxes.

And it also seems likely that home cooking, which has increased during the virus, will continue to be a factor in the future. This creates opportunities for food companies to develop business by marketing their products with original menus online.

Food NI has embraced the new channels to promote our member companies to reach a wider audience of consumers here and further afield. I for one intend to continue the trend for on-line food shopping after coronavirus. I for one havehad my days brightened, and meals enhanced, by deliveries of local foods such as fish, beef, flavoured oils, jams and nut butter. To buy local online, see