Our economy can dine out on premium food tourism
OPINION:Restaurants, hotels and food service providers need to buy more Irish food
Ireland has the potential to become a premium food tourism destination, with international visitors seeking authentic food experiences, driving economic opportunity to the food and hospitality sectors.
The awareness of our high quality beef and dairy produce is recognised internationally at all consumer levels. Over the past few years the innovation in this sector – most especially at artisan production level – has been soaring.
There is a growing trend where chefs are bringing their favourite recipes through own label produce to customers. All of this is strengthening our food products and we must recognise this opportunity and market it to the world.
There has always been a strong interest amongst visitors for Ireland’s culture and a growing segment within it is Ireland’s traditional culture. Food tourism has a key role to play here. There is an opportunity to move food away from just a necessary service to a cultural experience at the heart of our people and our tradition.
Restaurants, hotels and food service providers need to look to purchasing the food of our island and realise the strength and unique marketing position that providing an Irish ingredient-led experience can offer to their business. The hospitality industry in Ireland is the food shop window for visitors. Innovation in our food production sector needs to be embraced to offer greater diversity of dishes on our menus for increased visitor satisfaction.
Good Food Ireland links the agri-food sector with the tourism hospitality sector and brings to the consumer a network of businesses that are committed to using Irish ingredients in their cuisine.
A Grant Thornton survey earlier this year showed that Good Food Ireland has assisted with raising the business profile of its network of businesses and heightened their awareness of local food. As a result of this 92 per cent of the organisation’s providers have increased their purchasing of Irish food over the past three years which has contributed in the region of €50 million to the local economy.
By further strengthening the Irish ingredient-led experience within our hospitality industry and marketing it to the consumer, through a consistent standard, we will grow Ireland’s economy and reputation as a food tourism destination.
We must consistently work at maintaining and developing a unique, clean and sustainable image for our food, where Ireland is recognised as a premium food producer. There is immense potential for commercial benefit for tourism providers, the food production industry as well as agri sector through the creation of many unexplored opportunities for on-farm diversification and added value in middle farm economies.
The recent conference – Marketing Food Experience – highlighted the key to marketing food experience in Ireland abroad is a rich online content platform, providing high quality answers to questions that customers are already searching for.
Capturing customer consideration is of key importance. Understanding social media as a strategic tool for extending content reach and increasing audience penetration can greatly assist in bringing the product to market.
Equally, accessibility is so important in terms of increasing opportunities to visit and that’s why mobile is an urgent and important step.
Ireland can become a food tourism destination but our hospitality industry must view food as an experience not just a necessity. Tourism must look at the value of our agri food sector as a unique proposition to market Ireland to visitors and our food sector must recognise the knock on economic benefits through the purchase of Irish food by visitors when they return to their own countries.
There are challenges to overcome at both industry and government level, but the economic opportunity for our country far outweighs any difficulties we need to surmount. I believe that we have great people, great food and great hospitality providers and I am confident that by creating this new market opportunity we can position Ireland as a unique and world leading food tourism destination.
Margaret Jeffares is founder and managing director of Good Food Ireland