Sustainability centre stage in branding initiative
A revolution in marketing Irish food and drink aims to give the sector an edge among discerning consumers worldwide
On April 18th, 1894 250 people attended a meeting in Dublin which ended with a resolution to found the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.
The meeting culminated many years of assiduous work by Horace Plunkett and a few dedicated associates who had travelled the country trying to organise support for a more modernised and co-operative approach to Irish agriculture.
Plunkett addressed the meeting for an hour under the banner “Better Farming, Better Business, Better Living” and ended to rapturous applause with the following verse;
If what seemed afar so good
turn to nothing in your hands
On again, the virtue lies
in the struggle not the prize.
Plunkett, exhausted but elated, left the meeting feeling that he had started “an industrial revolution”.
On June 21st, 2012, 250 people attended a meeting in Dublin and were introduced to a new revolution in Irish agricultural marketing; the launch of a sustainability initiative for Irish food and drink which will give Ireland the most comprehensive and verifiable commitment to sustainability of any country of origin in the world.
The meeting culminated many years of work under the auspices of Bord Bia, whose chief executive Aiden Cotter introduced a new brand Origin Green which will be used by Irish food and drink producers to proclaim that Irish farm produce is the best in the world.
Plunkett and his associates were motivated in the late 19th century by the fact that Irish produce was being shut out of its main market, Britain, by the more efficient and organised Danes who had reorganised their agricultural sector in the 1860s and had over 600 co-operatives by the 1890s. In Ireland at the time “production methods were still primitive and the marketing system, if such it could be called, was deplorable”.
The problems faced by the sector in the early 21st century were equally daunting.
David Bell and Mary Shelman from the Harvard Business School were engaged to advise on a new marketing strategy for Irish agriculture and identified the main issues:
Fragmentation: Ireland’s production system is inefficient with too many small producers who lack the scale and capital required to adopt better technology;
Lack of consumer orientation: most Irish food exports are sold as commodities or on a business-to-business basis, producers therefore lack contact with the end consumer;
Low confidence in the future: resulting in lack of investment in the future and lack of talent entering the industry.
From his grave Horace Plunkett must be proud that his initiative ultimately led to one strong Irish brand, Kerrygold, visible in the world’s supermarkets, and to global food giants, Kerry and Glanbia, which arose from the co-operative movement. But he would also be disappointed that the three problems identified by the Harvard team in the 21st century were equally familiar to him in the 19th century.