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.
By Stephen Cadogan
Saturday, April 20, 2019 – 11:00 AM
Chia Bia, a health food company based in Tramore, Co Waterford, has become an industry leader in the supply of seed products to the Irish, European, and international markets.
The business was founded in 2009, after owner Barrie Rogers suffered a back injury while on holiday in America. It was then when he discovered the power of chia seeds after they were recommended to him for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Chia seeds are native to South America and their optimal growing conditions are in regions close to the equator. They are small, subtle-tasting black or white seeds high in Omega 3 and fibre, a source of protein, and can be added to foods and drinks to boost nutrition.
On his return to Ireland, Barrie researched the best way to bring them to Europe. He quickly learned about the tariffs and customs associated with importing a product into the EU.
Chia Bia worked with Revenue to ensure the correct classification, and developed a relationship with a clearing agent for all future purchases.
Once the company got clearance to import the seed, they faced an additional obstacle in the form of the European Union’s ‘Novel Food’ regulation.
‘Novel Food’ is any newly developed innovative food — food produced using new technologies and production processes — as well as food which is or has been traditionally eaten outside of the EU prior to May 1997.
Barrie and his team applied for approval through the equivalence process from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and got the go-ahead to sell the seed when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) completed and issued a safety assessment.
Chia Bia, which initially went on the shelves in 120 health stores, later secured its first multiple retail listing in SuperValu, had its first international listing with Holland & Barrett in the UK and is now one of Europe’s largest suppliers of chia seeds.
It participated in Bord Bia’s Marketplace B2B buyer event, which resulted in sales of the brand to retailers in the Middle East. The company is currently working with existing customers and on building its online sales channels.
Health food products were new when Chia Bia launched in the retail market in 2013. It supported the trade and educated consumers on the benefits of health foods to grow the market, and is now category leader.
The product range can be found nationwide in SuperValu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Centra, Holland & Barrett, and independent retailers.
It is also available in over 2,000 outlets worldwide with new product launches, increased exports sales, and new markets in the EU planned for 2019.
Chia Bia now has two British Retail Consortium (BRC) accredited packaging and storage facilities, totalling over 15,000 square feet, with semi-automated filling, packaging, and milling machinery.
Barrie Rogers, whose first job was as a lifeguard in Tramore Leisure Centre, said the firm’s success is testament to the hard work of employees. Each member plays a crucial role in the running of the business.
“The Chia seed is now on many household shopping lists as it is very versatile and can easily be added to foods and drinks to boost nutrition. Ten years ago, this wasn’t the case.
“As pioneers of the chia seed, we have received tremendous support from Irish consumers and membership of Love Irish Food has helped reach a wider audience, influence brand choice, drive sales, and encourage consumers to choose Irish.
2019 marks our 10th year in business. Our success is attributed to a continued emphasis on high-quality health food products, aligned to a desire to innovate and satisfy the needs of our customers
“We are committed to the quality of our chia seeds and we have a direct relationship with the growers in South America. My most recent trip was in October to Paraguay,” he said.
Mr Rogers said the company, the first to bring chia seed to Europe, had steady growth over the last few years, with unit sales up 12.5% in 2018. It also opened a café bia+brew on its Tramore premises last October.
“With customer experience and quality ingredients being a major focus for this new venture, our coffee, breakfast and lunch offerings are an ultimate showcase of local Waterford food producers,” he said.
Mr Rogers said the company ethos is to support the local community as best it can. It gives him great satisfaction to be able to do that through his business.
“I aim to be open and transparent with my team. I empower them to make decisions, I acknowledge hard work and most of all encourage them to enjoy what they do,” he said.
“I feel you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial, so if an employee has a creative flair, I nurture it.”
Mr Rogers said the company’s vision is to consistently deliver high-quality products that offer consumers a healthier choice.
“We only work with chia suppliers who have a direct relationship with their growers. Further to this, we nutritionally analyse each batch of seeds to ensure they meet our strict nutritional criteria,” he said.
Chia Bia, a member of the Bord Bia initiative Origin Green, implements many initiatives to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and be more sustainable.
These include environmental improvements to lower electricity usage, responsible sourcing of raw material and packaging, involvement in local communities and charities, and introducing lean principles to increase efficiencies and productivity in the plant.+