AN explosion in online shopping has led to a big increase in delivery van traffic across rural as well as urban Ireland.
Rural roads have never seen since such activity since the days of the Circuit of Ireland motor rally and the Rás Tailteann and other cycle races which brought cavalcades of service trucks, vans, motor bikes, and cars through remote places.
Christmas shopping is being done in a different landscape this year due to Covid-19 restrictions with a greater emphasis than ever on buying local whether in store or online.
The food chain from farm to fork is among the sectors which has responded in style to the growing demands of consumers.
With the mere click of a mouse, or a simple telephone call, people can order their food, groceries, and other products from the comfort of their own homes.They can also be assured of prompt deliveries to their front door due to the increasing use of individual postcodes or even avail of click and collect services.
The food chain includes those who are in farming and fishing, those who process and market the products, drivers who deliver to shops and supermarkets and staff who stock shelves and operate counter and checkout services.
All links in the chain, which also includes butcher’s shops, have helped to maintain food supplies during the public health restrictions and are continuing to provide valuable services as they adapt to Christmas 2020 after ten challenging months.
A Festive Food Heroes campaign just launched by Agri Aware aims to show the work of farmers in producing the food that is eaten and enjoyed by millions of people at Christmas.
It involves farmers explaining to consumers how they look after their animals and crops to the highest standards all year round to ensure families can enjoy fresh and sustainable Irish produce.
Agri Aware chairman Alan Jagoe said this year more than ever, it is important that consumers buy Irish locally produced food and realise that farmers are the backbone behind the food eaten at Christmas.
Minister of State Pippa Hackett, who visited vegetable growers in north County Dublin, last week to coincide with the campaign launch, urged consumers to consider their responsibilities as well as their options when it comes to choosing their vegetables.
“This is not just about the excellent quality of the Irish root vegetables which are available.
It is also about sustainability.
“I believe that as consumers we all have a responsibility to buy local so that unnecessary food miles, which are a significant factor contributing to climate change, can be eliminated,” she said.
Ms Hackett, who has responsibility for horticulture in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, outlined the range of vegetables available.
“While vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage thrive all year, this is also the season for root vegetables.
“Fresh Irish carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, swedes, sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli all are both delicious and versatile, and can make up a wide range of dishes,” she said.
According to Bord Bia, it has been a difficult year for the Irish food service industry which is expected to lose over €4bn in consumer spending, a 47% drop.
However, it predicts that, even in a worst-case scenario, there will be some bounce back next year in market recovery.
The sector covers everything from pubs, restaurants, cafes, and hotels to catering services offered in institutional settings such as workplaces, hospitals, and educational institutions.
Bord Bia chief executive Tara McCarthy said despite 2020 being a tough time for many in the sector, there were also amazing examples of resilience in the face of adversity.
Some of these were shared with almost 500 delegates at its virtual food service seminar broadcast from the RDS last month.
They included a restaurant chain driving increased sales through off premises activity and ‘cloud’ kitchens, a city centre-based salad bar partnering with a suburban coffee shop to reach customers working from home and a handmade dessert producer that developed a direct-to-consumer channel.
“These are just some examples of the grit and determination that the Irish food and drink industry continues to display and ultimately a testament to those that rise to ongoing challenges day in, day out.”
Good Food Ireland founder and chief executive Margaret Jeffares also stressed recently that choosing to buy local is needed now more than ever.
“If 2020, has shown us anything it is the strong sense of solidarity that the public feels for our local hotels, restaurants, food shops, cafes, food and drink producers and other local businesses within our towns and villages,” she said.
She added that Good Food Ireland members are committed to sourcing ingredients locally in support of local farmers, food producers and fishermen, ensuring local jobs and businesses continue to remain viable.
Love Irish Food executive director Kieran Rumley said Covid-19 has been an unprecedented challenge to the sector.
As a material contributor to the local and national economies, it faces significant uncertainty, He said Irish food brands are increasingly being supported by shoppers, but Brexit will bring further complexity to an industry already over-burdened by the Covid-19 fallout.
Love Irish Food has called on shoppers to increase their support for locally produced food brands to ensure a strong, vibrant, and independent supply to supermarket shelves at a vital point in our economic history.
As the Christmas shopping spree intensifies, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has urged people to shop local and safely this Christmas.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, noting that small businesses employ over one million people and are a crucial part of the economy, said: “I hope we can all get behind them this Christmas.”
There are already signs that those appeals are having an impact. Recent research by Visa showed that shoppers are keen to repay local businesses for their work during lockdown, including the delivery of essential food and other items to vulnerable customers.
Cuisine de France, produced in Ireland
The Cuisine de France brand first came to our shores over three decades ago and has been thriving in the convenience retail sector ever since. NIGEL SCULLY, managing director of Aryzta Netherlands and chief commercial officer for Aryzta Ireland and UK, talks to Maev Martin about how consumers shopping in multiples have also rediscovered the Cuisine de France brand over the past two years.
One of Ireland’s best known and much loved brands, Cuisine de France bakery and food-to-go products are currently available in over 550 locations across Ireland. “We are extremely lucky to have so many key retail partners across Ireland,” says Scully. “Our Cuisine de France brand has been around for over 32 years and has enjoyed very strong customer loyalty, which means that it is a winning formula for both Aryzta Ireland and our retail partners.
“Over the past decade, there was a move to own label baked goods by some large format retail groups, which meant that our brand became more important within the convenience channel where we continued to have excellent support from groups such as Spar, Londis, Mace, Costcutter and Gala. However, a change was accelerated during the pandemic whereby consumers wanted brands they knew and trusted. As a result, we have started to gain penetration again in multiple retail through our partnership with Tesco Ireland and also in the forecourt network through our partnership with Applegreen. We have massively expanded our customer base since moving our brand back into the retail multiples and forecourt channels, and we continue to look for further opportunities to deliver our special products to our customers.”
Aryzta has 23 bakeries across Europe that are fed by over 700 suppliers. Nigel says this vast network of international suppliers means they are at the cutting edge of food innovation,which allows them to gain insight into the latest food trends before any of their competitors. “We are indeed blessed to partner with some of the best and most innovative supply partners within our industry and we are able to use their scale and knowledge to forecast the trends that are expected to become mainstream within 18 to 24 months,” he says.
“Due to our scale, we are often the first they will come to in order to work collaboratively on new product development. For example, we are currently working on a very exciting ‘next step’ in the bakery industry with a real market disrupter which will play very closely into our sustainability agenda and our healthy products innovation agenda.”
Authentic baking Nigel maintains that current trends in bakery have been leading consumers back to traditional tastes and values. “Consumers want bread products with high nutritional value that are produced under authentic and timehonoured baking methods,” he says. “In particular, our sourdough products honour the essential elements for authentic sourdough production. We use a live perpetual starter which has been grown, used and regenerated over 30 years, and which gives the Aryzta sourdough product its unique and recognisable flavour. This combination of long fermentation and resting times means that Aryzta has the ability to produce authentic sourdough bread, both efficiently and in high volumes, while adhering to the highest food quality and safety standards.”
Enhancing a food-to-go favourite According to Nigel, Aryzta are seeing a resurgence in consumers wanting and expecting premium ingredients on the food-to-go side of their business. “One of the items we are most famous for in Ireland is the chicken fillet roll,” he says. “It has been the staple diet of many a student or construction worker since I was in college, which was neither today nor yesterday. In our retail partners we not only provide the French demi baguette that is used, but also the chicken fillet used as the filling. For years, we were the market leaders in that space, but our research told us that our consumers wanted more, so in 2020 we took a decision to step change our French bread production at our bakery in Grange Castle in Clondalkin. “This involved the installation of a baking capability that we would describe as ‘next generation French bread’. The aim was to produce the highest quality French bread available on the market today. We then worked collaboratively with our chicken supplier to improve what was already a bestin-class product. “Our team of chefs and New Product Development project managers worked for over a year to produce a specific new crumb coating that enhanced the flavour immensely. Now the consumer can purchase their favourite daily lunch time roll knowing they have the best demi baguette and best chicken fillet on the market, ensuring they get the best all round offer. I would confidently put these products up against any competitive product as being best in market.”
Plant-based options The development of plant-based food is a small but important part of the Aryzta Ireland portfolio. “Plant-based foods continues to be a category that people talk about an awful lot and as a business we had to ensure that we had an offering that could appeal to the consumers of that category,” he says. “That doesn’t mean purely vegans and vegetarians, but also the growing demographic of flexitarians who may decide to go meat-free once or twice a week, so we have developed a range of products to suit that consumer, such as our alternative to the chicken fillet, which has proved very popular, as well as our vegetarian sausage roll. For those morning coffee customers, we have a Cuisine de France vegan croissant, which ensures that everyone can still have their morning treat.”
The perfect accompaniment Nigel describes Aryzta’s Pierre’s brand as “the hot food brand of choice” for retail convenience and foodservice delis, offering a range of premium savoury products that have been tailored to the convenience customer’s palate. “It is more of a business to business brand in the plsense that our retail and foodservicecustomers ask for the products by name as they know the products within that brand will be of the highest quality, hence the tagline ‘everyday made better’,” he says. “We have over 1,000 retail customers buying a Pierre’s product each week, whether that be a chicken fillet, a premium sausage roll, or our ubiquitous spicy wedges, which means there are tens of thousands of daily consumers of a Pierre’s product.”
While Pierre’s, and Aryzta’s coffee brand, Seattle’s Best Coffee, aren’t Love Irish Food brands, they have acted as the perfect complement to their sister brand and Love Irish Food member, Cuisine de France. Since its launch in the Irish market, consumers have been purchasing Seattle’s Best Coffee to consume with Cuisine de France bakery products, as well as some of the hot food offerings from Pierre’s.
“When we launched Seattle’s Best Coffee, in partnership with Starbucks, in 2014 we tried to be a bit disruptive within the industry,” says Scully. “It was our insistence that a great coffee offering needed to be matched by a great food offering, so we designed all our counters to ensure they had ample space for a morning goods offer and an afternoon sweet treat offering. As it wasn’t purely a coffee offer, we were as engaged in ensuring the consumer bought a croissant or donut or Danish product alongside their coffee. “Prior to that, people felt if you had something close by, then that was good enough, but consumer research did not back this up. Where else in a store do you stand for nearly 40 seconds as you wait for a coffee to pour? We therefore felt it was important to put great food within touching distance. We now have over 200 Seattle’s Best Coffee sites across Ireland. However, just like the bakery, our coffee offering constantly evolves and consumers want more. We are currently working on upgrading the machinery we use to provide an even better coffee experience.”
Investing in innovation Aryzta continues to grow its customer base for both its Cuisine De France branded business and its private label customer business. It also continues to invest in premiumisation. “Three years ago, we recognised that consumer tastes and expectations were changing when it came to bakery products,” says Scully. “Customer focus on nutritional value has increased significantly, with increasing demand for fibre, seeds, grains, and most of all, sourdough. With strong year-on-year growth in demand for high-end, specialty breads, this was clearly a sector with a lot of relevance for us. From our Grange Castle site, we continue to increase our bakery capacity to serve a growing number of Irish and UK customers.”
For example, Aryzta had to invest heavily in new equipment at its plant in Grange Castle to produce the ‘next generation’ white French “Customer focus on nutritional value has increased significantly, with increasing demand for fibre, seeds, grains, and most of all, sourdough.” Meet the Maker Fresh bread that Cuisine de France is offering in the market today. “In 2019, we were the first in Europe to purchase new equipment that allows the dough to be shaped in a ‘stress-free’ way, which has an amazing impact on the taste and structure of the bread,” he says. “It has been so successful that the second European installation is currently underway in our factory in the Netherlands, which shows that Aryzta is investing in best in class all over Europe, not just in Ireland and the UK.”
According to Nigel, the most recent investment is even more significant, and will allow for greater research and development into new products for the “ever more complex tastes” of the Irish and UK consumer. “Recent years have seen demand for sourdough grow significantly to the point where we had to invest in order to keep up with customer and consumer demand, so we are delighted to announce that we are in the final stages of completing the installation of a new speciality bread manufacturing plant at Grange Castle,” he says. “This investment, which includes a significant expansion of our state-of-the-art live sourdough starter plant, will result in the doubling of capacity for the production of sourdough and speciality breads, and we can expect to see those products in our customers’ stores in the coming months.”
New Product Development Apart from the new plant in Clondalkin, Aryzta Ireland are currently working on a range of “premium treat products” within the Cuisine de France brand which will allow consumers to have that “little bit of luxury” in their day. “Within that range we will have some premium donut products and some premium Danish products and they will be introduced to the market in the second half of this year,” says Nigel. Regarding that perfect accompaniment to any Cuisine de France treat, Aryzta are looking to trial Seattle’s Best Coffee iced drinks, following on from a trend that they identified in coffee shops such as Starbucks. “This is not something you would normally get in a forecourt or high street retail setting, so we want to do something different and add incremental sales opportunities to stores, while bringing customers into the category that don’t normally purchase coffee,” he says.
A robust supply chain Nigel describes the Aryzta supply chain as “one of the most robust supply chains in the industry”. While the pandemic was “hugely challenging” and changed how they approached business, the feedback they received from their customers was that they were “one of the best” in terms of continuation of supply. “That is something we take great pride in,” he says. “It is a credit to our distribution and supply chain team members that, in the middle of what was a very scary time, they remained singularly customer focused, and often times the management team were in the freezer picking cases to ensure that we didn’t let our customers down.”
While Brexit had many implications for their business, the ability to get products was not one of them. “Due to the length of time that it took to finalise Brexit we had enough time to change how we brought products in,” he says. “For example, for products that were UK manufactured, we were able to find a move to a European supply base, and for the products that came through the landbridge, we were able to find alternative routes. Once again, this was a great collaborative effort on behalf of our product, quality, and supply chain teams.
According to Nigel Scully, the Cuisine de France brand’s membership of LIF has been extremely positive in reinforcing the quality credentials of the brand. “It also helps to highlight the fact that a lot of our key products such as our white French baguette bread, our range of donuts, our apple pie, and some of our morning goods, are all locally produced in Ireland, using Irish ingredients. This became increasingly important to shoppers, so that they could support local during the pandemic, and it also resonates with our retail customers.” Cuisine de France joined Love Irish Food in early 2021. “We have been involved with a number of Love Irish Food campaigns over the last 12 months, both in-store and through their social media platforms,” he says. “And Love Irish Food were very supportive when we launched new products. Consumers will continue to support Irish businesses, so having the Love Irish Food logo on our products is a great selling point. We would definitely recommend membership of the organisation to other producers, and we look forward to continuing our association with Love Irish Food in the future.”+