MEMBERSHIP of Love Irish Food, formed in 2009, is helping to safeguard the future of the country’s food and drink manufacturing sector.
The logo that its members display is equally helping consumers in a big way to make informed choices about buying Irish.
But the brands that came together to form the association are not just confined to the traditional food and beverage products whose raw materials come from the land where dairy and beef cattle graze on nutrient rich grass and crops grow on fertile tillage fields.
They also now include gluten free food products that are essential for the strict diets required by people with coeliac disease. Over 47,000 people in Ireland are believed to have the condition. Many more are undiagnosed.
There are an estimated three million Americans with the condition, which is triggered when they eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains.
A growing demand for gluten free products is therefore reflected in the increasing range of products to be seen in Irish supermarkets and on the menu offerings in hotels, restaurants and other food outlets.
Love Irish Food members such as Tadhg Long Catering (TLC), in Ballinhassig, Co Cork, which specialises in private, retail, corporate and sporting food services, have also responded to the demand by including gluten free food in their range of products and menu offerings.
The company is headed by Ballincollig born Tadhg Long, who has 25 years of experience in the catering and food service sector at home and abroad. Recently, the TLC chefs, working in their dedicated gluten kitchen, examined their recipes.
They discovered how adaptable their dishes were and that by making a few small tweaks the range would be accessible to people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. The dishes were sent for labora
testing. All were classified as gluten free.
With the logistics of the manufacturing base it was feasible to divide the workspace into two separate units. A dedicated gluten free kitchen was added. And that is where Tadhg, executive chef Dave Kelly and chef de partie Mark Howley now spend much of their time.
“People are really happy with the quality of the food, the taste of the food and in particular the vast range they can choose from. The desserts are particularly popular but also the TLC brown bread remains one of the more popular choices,” he said.
TLC, which employs 12 full time people, intends to grow this side of the business. The vision is to extend to more urban areas across Cork city and county.
It recently opened a gluten-free shop next door to the company’s dedicated gluten free kitchen in Ballinhassig. The inspiration came from the fact that Tadhg Long was himself put on a gluten restricted diet.
Over the years, he has seen many changes in the food service sector generally with a growing trend of people catering at home, with baby showers, graduation parties, 21st birthday parties and pre and postwedding parties.
“People like to stay at home. Children can run freely and not have to leave the premises at 9 pm. People like to have an input into menu types and service times and they can do this by using a catering company.
“Couples are also thinking out of the box when it comes to getting married and are becoming adventurous when choosing wedding venues. Again, this can become a reality when using a catering company.
“We have catered not only for weddings but other celebrations in many venues, bars, clubs and homes in Cork city and county,” he said.
With private catering, sports catering and glutenfree options, TLC aims to provide healthy food with the minimum effort on the consumers part, so they are able to enjoy the occasion stress- and worry-free.
A growing business which is small enough to ensure that the customer is the focal point of its offerings, Tadhg Long said this allows personalisation of all menu offerings, ensuring customer delight.
“Our private catering offerings include full service or drop off service to a home or venue. Our offerings even include a mobile pizza oven for Artisan pizza parties. We can also offer people a Spanish paella evening in the comfort of their own home.
“We also specialise in protory viding healthy and nutritious meals to sports teams both pre and post games and training sessions and for bus journeys to and from matches. We have worked with Cork County and intercounty GAA teams as well as rugby and athletics clubs for over five years now.
“We work closely with team nutritionists to provide them with the best menus, which are personalised to their team’s requirements.
“This has allowed us to gain a fantastic insight into what it takes to fuel the body for the demands of today’s athletes,” he said.
Tadhg, who is passionate about catering and food service, said TLC caters for people in their private home, local hall, rugby club or pub and also provides a collection and drop off service from its headquarters in Ballinhassig.
Having started his own catering business, after travelling abroad for a period, he said his customers are very pleased that he is affiliated with the Love Irish Food brand as it guarantees them that the products are made in Cork, using fresh local produce when available.
“When you make small changes in your shopping trolley by purchasing TLC Foods, not only are you buying healthy tasty delicious meals for you and your family, you are ticking off many boxes.
“You are also being kinder to the environment by reducing imports, you are keeping jobs in your locality and you are finally doing what you set out to do – just trying to do your little bit,” he said.
Rising input costs and inflationary pressures have been identified as the top threat to business growth in the food sector here.
In a survey of 70 small and medium sized food firms carried out by the food business representative group Love Irish Food, and professional services firm, PwC, 97% identified those areas as presenting the most significant challenge to growth.
Supply chain issues and rising energy prices had already caused input costs to soar in many sectors, but the war in Ukraine has exacerbated the situation and much of the pricing pressure has yet to make its way through the system.
Price hikes in animal feed, energy and fertiliser, along with supply chain issues, have seen food processors passing those increases on to the end consumer.
It is estimated that commodity price increases can take up to six months to reach consumers, meaning pressure on pricing is likely to continue at all stages of the process.
According to the Central Statistics Office, annual food price inflation has risen from around 1.5% in December to 3.5% in the 12 months to April.
“Irish food producers now face a tidal wave of challenges that encompass near doubling of energy costs, limited availability of key food and non-food ingredients, wider supply chain issues, and labour retention costs,” Kieran Rumley, Executive Director, Love Irish Food said.
“With [overall] inflation now estimated to reach between 7% and 9% in the third quarter driven by energy costs, the food industry is set for the biggest challenge that it has faced in many decades,” he added.
Other top challenges listed in the 2022 SME Food Barometer include greater economic volatility, identified by 86%, and supply chain issues – 66%.
Almost half of participants stated that labour shortages are a key threat for future business growth.
Health threats did not feature to any extent, having been the top concern last year.
Despite the challenges facing the sector, 85% of firms surveyed expressed confidence about the prospects for their own company’s revenue growth in the year ahead.
That was up from 75% last year.
However, the overall economic outlook among the business participating has soured somewhat.
Around a quarter said they thought the economy would improve in the year ahead – down from almost two thirds last year.
“The fact that Irish food SMEs are confident about their own organisations’ growth in the face of economic uncertainty is testament to their resilience and their confidence to weather current challenges,” Owen McFeely, Director at PwC Retail & Consumer Practice said.
“They have become accustomed to dealing with recent challenges, both Brexit and Covid-19 have tested their crisis management and business resilience capabilities,” he added.