InFocus with Kieran Rumley, Love Irish Food
Kieran Rumley is Executive Director of Love Irish
Food. Kieran has over 30 years experience of
marketing locally produced food and beverage
brands in Ireland with companies such as
Showerings Irl, C&C, Dairygold and Batchelors.
Kieran holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Management
from the University of Dublin, an MSc in Management from
the University of Bath and is a Fellow of the Marketing
Institute of Ireland (MII). Love Irish Food, as an organisation,
works with the food and beverages industry to safeguard the
future of the branded food and drink manufacturing sectors
in Ireland. Its members employ more than 15,000 people in
food and allied businesses across the Irish economy.
Q To start off can you tell us a little about how Love
Irish Food came into being?
A Love Irish Food was established in 2009 in response to a
significant switch in grocery food trading in the Republic
of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Up to 20% of household
shopping at any one time was trading across the border
with the loss of over €1 billion in retail value in 2009. The Love
Irish Food initiative was created by locally produced food
brands to actively remind shoppers that short term savings
could result in a loss of brand choice and the permanent
loss of Irish brands in the local economy. The association
started with 28 brands and now represents almost 100
brands distributed throughout the Irish grocery market.
The Love Irish Food mark which has an 80%+ recognition,
developed to become a clear mark of provenance for Irish
produced food and drink brands. Its unique focus is solely
on food and drink brands.
Q How have market conditions changed since the
establishment of Love Irish Food?
A In 2009 the economy was gripped in a mindset of fear.
The focus was on protecting family and local community.
We faced ghost estates, a 15% unemployment rate and up
to 1,500 people emigrating weekly and with it, key skills.
Ajai Chopra became a household name. ‘Staycations’ and
home entertainment were buzz words. We learned new, more
economic cooking skills. There was a conscious awareness
of the effect of buying locally produced foods in supporting
the local and national economy. Fast forward to 2018,
unemployment is now heading to 5%, key employment skills
are in short supply, we have a housing stock shortage and
eating out and holidays aboard are booming.
In a relatively short period of time the national economic
mindset and focus has flipped. Yet as a nation we now carry
a sovereign debt of €200 billion, with gross debt projections
continuing to grow and a current annual debt repayment
level of €6 billion and of course Brexit. Having come through
a maelstrom we should not forget our legacy of debt and
we need to be very mindful of threats to our economy that
are outside of our control. Continuing to support local food
brand production must remain central to shopper mindset
and this is the challenge that Love Irish Food addresses
through its activities.
Typically, these activities would encompass the national
media advertising of the brand message across the year.
Focused profiles of its member brands and activities and
activation at events such as Bloom where consumer interest
in Love Irish Food and member brands has over 30,000
visitors attending and meeting with its producer members.
Q What are some of the barriers to growth that your
A Love Irish Food brand companies represent a large
swathe of the Irish food industry, representing SME and
multinational food and drink producers. Domestically,
access to finance, good quality staff skills, retention of
staff and modest market growth make up some of the local
challenges. This combined with Brexit, volatile international
trading relationships and currency volatility make for
big hurdles to growth. Some of these challenges will be
well flagged and prepared for whereas others may well
reflect changes to environmental issue, such as the recent
changing attitudes to the use of plastics in the industry.
These hurdles will vary depending on the member company.
SME’s will face very different challenges to those of our
multinational member brands. The limitation of resources
and manpower that they face means that the onus of
administrative requirements, for example, the recent GDPR
legislation all pose serious calls on their time. This for
companies, where oversight of the entire business by the
owner manager, means that the burden of administrative
regulation increasingly takes its toll on the available time for
production and sales development, the basis on which the
company was created.
Q How big of an impact has Brexit already had on your
A Love Irish Food has undertaken and released data from
a number of its members surveys. A hard Brexit would
have a severely negative impact in Ireland and the UK on
the availability of fresh food produce, finished goods and
ingredients. However, to date Brexit has not significantly
impacted on the level of trading, it has directed companies
future planning. Re-evaluation of existing trading,
investment in new markets and up-skilling to confront
these opportunities has and is being undertaken as a
key operational focus of member companies. With Brexit
different scenarios have to be planned for, skills and new
languages must be learned, such as that involving customs
and tariffs and time set aside for the development of plans
that may never come to fruition but are necessary where
one of those plans may result in the post-Brexit development
of the company. All of this takes an enormous investment in
Q What do you think are the key success factors in
building and scaling a brand?
A Having a consumer ready advantage is a prerequisite.
On top of this the company needs a scalable market
whether domestic or export. It needs confidence, belief,
knowledge, human skills and finally it needs the financial
resources to allow it achieve its ambition. Scaling a brand
is one of the big challenges facing a SME investment in its
brand development process. It may emerge from a forced
situation of production constraints where the brand may
have outgrown its production capability. If the decision
is to invest in a new production facility then the overhead
attributing to this investment may well force a quantum
growth of the brand. The fundamental question of course
is: Can the brand sustain this challenge? Where the answer
is questionable, outsourcing allowing for a more phased
growth may be a better option. There is always an attraction
of having shiny new kit especially for emerging brands.
Brand owners need to be aware that invariably there is
an excess of production capability available in most food
sectors than is required. Tapping into this may well allow
the short developmental time needed to grow a brand to its
next level on a planned for and more profitable basis prior to
bringing an excess production capability in house.
Q How have consumers reacted to the Love Irish Food
A The challenge of building a national brand is not to be
underestimated. There are a great many brand marks in the
market referencing jobs, quality and provenance from food
to fintech. Love Irish Food has focused its total effort on the
food industry and in a matter of years the Love Irish Food
brand has become the pre-eminent consumer provenance
mark for the branded food and beverage industry market.
Consumer are aware of and understand the meaning of
the mark and what it stands for. Consumer brands want
to share in this by becoming members of Love Irish Food
and to highlight their local production credentials and
contribution to local communities as a competitive point of
difference, especially to those imported brands that may
have historically been produced locally. It also helps these
locally produced brand members to set themselves apart
from brands with Irish sounding names that are produced
outside of the state.
Q Do you feel that retailers do enough to support
emerging and growing Irish food brands?
A The Irish grocery sector is a highly competitive market.
There are some good nurturing opportunities for brands
among retailers. However, national distribution within
the chains for emerging brands is enormously difficult.
Some sectors are massively driven by imported brands,
for example, biscuits and yoghurts. National shelf space
for locally produced brands is exceptionally difficult to
achieve as the category planning/leadership is driven by
brands produced outside of the state. Irish retailers could do
considerably more to highlight on shelf, genuinely produced
Irish food brands, where the brand is actually produced
locally and where local ingredients are used.
Q The Love Irish Food story has been a massive success
over the last nine years. How do you envisage growth
over the next decade?
A Love Irish Food as an association will always be driven
by opportunity to promote locally produced food and
drink brands. Local production is key. There is a high bar
to membership of the association where over 80% of the
value of a brand must be achieved through local production
in Ireland, where other marks may well have much lower
constraints. In addition, the brand that qualifies for
membership must use local ingredients in its production,
where those local ingredients are available to standard.
Over 15,000 jobs are dependent on Love Irish Food member
companies. There remains an enormous dependency on jobs
that support Irish produced food brands. Growth will come
through harnessing more companies to become members
and support Irish production of quality food products that
are produced for Irish tastes and with Irish food ingredients
and this will be the direction of Love Irish Food growth over
the coming years.