Enterprise Ireland’s drive for innovation in food industry
‘Innovation is centre stage across everything. There would be no new products without it’
Orla Battersby from Enterprise Ireland say it is very difficult to have a conversation about the Irish food and beverage industry without mentioning Brexit. Photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennell Photography
“The market won’t wait for innovation and Irish food and beverage companies can’t afford to wait either,” says Enterprise Ireland food division manager Orla Battersby. “They have to be constantly engaged in the development of new and improved market-led products. We are seeing a connectedness across the whole value chain and the power of the major multiples is a critical driving force for innovation.”
It’s very difficult to have a conversation about the Irish food and beverage industry without mentioning Brexit, she notes. “The scale of the industry makes it hugely important,” she says. “It is responsible for the employment of 173,000 people, 58,000 directly. It is responsible for €12.6 billion in exports, that’s 48 per cent of all exports from Irish firms. But €4.4 billion or 35 per cent of exports from the sector go to UK. That’s why innovation is so important.
“The UK market is very import to most food and beverage exporting companies and will remain so,” Battersby adds. “But if want to grow and secure their position there or diversify into new markets they will need to innovate. There is no other way to do it.”
And there is solid evidence to demonstrate the value of innovation to Irish companies. “We carried out a survey in 2016 which showed that firms who availed of innovation supports from Enterprise Ireland reported an average 67 per cent growth in global sales,” she points out.
“Innovation is centre stage across everything. If you think about it, there wouldn’t be any new products on the shelves without it. But it’s also about innovation of manufacturing processes and about companies having an innovation strategy. It’s about where the ideas come from, how they are selected and prioritised, and what is done with them after that. Companies need to have an innovation culture. That goes right to the way a company operates. It also goes to how we work with clients and our client engagement model (CEM) has a specific innovation pillar.”
Enterprise Ireland works with client companies to help them develop an innovation culture and improve aspects of the innovation process. “We look at it from where the ideas come from to who is responsible for looking after them and developing to how they are commercialised, potentially with support from Enterprise Ireland. We look at both capability and capacity. Capability is strategy and culture and so on. Capacity is finance and people. We provide assistance with both.”
Enterprise Ireland works with a wide range of both early stage and established companies on innovation and R&D projects. One of these is Anabio, a Cork-based functional foods company which produces probiotic and vitamin delivery systems via innovative encapsulated microbeads using milk protein structures. In that case the innovation was developed in conjunction with Teagasc in Moorepark, Co Cork.
Another company which has benefited from innovation support from Enterprise Ireland is Ina’s Handmade Foods, probably better known as Brodericks Brothers. The company produces a range of cakes for the food service market as well as the range of Brodericks cake bars and mini-bars which it exports to retailers in 23 countries. Rapid growth has led the firm to move to a new manufacturing facility in South City Business Park in Tallaght where it employs 110 people.
“The last two years have been about focusing on the move to the new premises which gears us up for growth,” says Barry Borderick. “We want to do a lot more exports. Innovation plays a huge part in the business. Our key customers require it, and we need it to stay ahead of the curve. Enterprise Ireland has been a very good partner. They really try and help you to achieve your ambitions and are very good at helping you scale business. They help you put the structures in place to build the business. Their Leadership for Growth course was also really helpful. Exporting success requires a lot of innovation and we really wouldn’t have been able to do that without Enterprise Ireland assistance.”
Enterprise Ireland provides a wide range of supports for innovation in the food and beverage sector. “At the very top end we have invested €40 million in three food-related technology centres,” says Battersby. “These are the Dairy Processing Technology Centre at UL, the Food Health Ireland Centre at UCD, and the Meat Technology Ireland at Teagasc Ashtown. The work on non-competitive scientific research. Companies come together to collaborate on this research and can then take different pieces of it and commercialise them.”
At other end of spectrum there is the Agile Innovation Fund which gives companies support of up to 50 per cent of eligible project expenditure up to €300,000. “This is very useful for projects which need to happen very rapidly. We fast-track the approval process and companies can get projects done very quickly. We also have a number of other R&D supports available to client companies. But it’s not all about money, it’s about culture and capability as well. I would encourage food and beverage companies with an interest in innovation and international expansion to contact Enterprise Ireland to see how we can support them to realise their ambitions.”