While the local food and drink industry is in good shape, operators shouldn’t be complacent or take recent gains for granted as it faces up to the shifting food habits of consumers.
That was one of the key messages delivered at Deloitte’s eighth Annual Food and Drink Dinner at Hilsborough Castle recently.
The event was attended by more than 70 representatives from leading local food and drink producers, processors and hospitality operators.
Speakers at the dinner included Trevor Lockhart, CBI chairman and CEO of Fane Valley and Shay Eliaz, Deloitte US innovation lead, who has worked closely with the World Economic Forum on research into the future of the global food and agriculture system.
Mr Eliaz told the gathering that the global food system faces many challenges, noting that 795 million people in the world go hungry every day while one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Agriculture and food production are also major drivers of climate change and resource consumption.
To solve these problems, he said, we must move beyond our silos and take an ‘ecosystem approach’ to our food systems.
Other challenges identified included the increased consumer demand for quality and sustainability in food, driven by a growing percentage of the general public who are making choices based on health concerns and environmental impacts, not just cost and convenience.
Mr Lockhart said:
‘Overall, I think we might describe the health of the agrifood sector as being good, but perhaps not as good as it was. We can’t be complacent and we can’t take it for granted, we have work to do.
‘The changes we’re seeing are more than a fad. I think we are seeing changes in consumer behaviour that the agrifood industry in Northern Ireland best take notice of,’ he continued. ‘You can see from the amount of money that has been invested in disruption in agrifood that we must look at new ways of producing, processing and selling food products.’
Mr Lockhart said the industry had to work collaboratively if it was to keep up with shifting food habits but acknowledged this is hard in the face of rising cost inflation, which puts pressure on margins; retail consolidation and the huge uncertainty that still surrounds the Brexit process.
‘We need to be careful that we don’t let ourselves fall into that apathetic view of Brexit. ‘No deal’ Brexit is bad news for agrifood, full stop,’ said Mr Lockhart.
‘We need to be very careful that we don’t slip into a position where we are saying, let’s just have a decision and move on because the dangers of it have still not been conveyed to the general public in a way they can relate to. We have to challenge ourselves as to how we communicate the consequences for our sector.’
Above: Pictured (L-R) at Hilsborough Castle are CBI chairman and CEO of Fane Valley Trevor Lockhart; Deloitte partner, Glenn Roberts; Deloitte US innovation lead, Shay Eliaz and Deloitte Ireland CEO, Harry Goddard.