Monday, October 18, 2021
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Reconnecting the consumer to the farm

The recent stock shortages consumers are experiencing in the supermarkets may drive them to venture outside of their usual purchase habits to discover new products and services.

Coinciding with consumers’ demand for local food, this change in shopping behaviour could present new opportunities for farmers to connect more directly with consumers.

Selling farm fresh produce direct to the customer is not a new concept by any means but it is certainly one that offers farmers new opportunities to derive value from their produce and command a higher price.

Whether it be through home delivery, farm shops, roadside pickup stops or farmers markets, new innovative approaches are being used by local farmers to sustain their businesses.

Local home delivery service Moo to You, located at Streamvale Farm in Belfast, set-up a delivery service during the Covid-19 pandemic offering a range of local produce both from the farm and other local brands, like ice coffee from Hill’s Mixtape in Newtownards or Sperrin Blue Cheese from Tamnagh Foods in Claudy, all delivered directly to your door.

Millbank Farm in Killinchy set up its farm shop in Saintfield and has invested in developing a fantastic online presence via its website and across social media to promote its farm fresh produce subscription services, which include fruit and vegetable boxes, meat boxes, cheese boxes, gift boxes and fresh cut flowers.

Its social media presence alone boasts over 4.7k followers on Instagram and on Facebook highlighting the importance of developing a virtual community to connect with local consumers.

Flavour First vending in Donaghadee has revolutionised the frustrating roadside pick up by investing in vending pods and contactless payment technologies to allow for a more efficient click and collect service for locals visiting the farm.

Connecting with the consumer at farmers’ markets is another ideal way for farmers to introduce new products to market and explain their benefits rather than relying on a supplier or retailer to do so.

Life Farms, located in Bangor, is an urban farm that grows organic and chemical free microgreens and supplies its products to local restaurants but also to the public at the local Bangor market every Wednesday morning.

As the agri-food sector deals with both the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, rebuilding the economy and ensuring the resilience of the local agri-food supply chain is of critical importance.

Despite these challenges, it is evident that consumer demand for local and desire to connect has created new opportunities or new ways of doing business among the farming community.

Ulster University’s new advanced certificate in Management Practice (Developing Leaders in Agri-Food) will provide aspiring farmers with the latest thinking on the principles of leading and managing an agri-food business in today’s fast-changing environment.

Professor Barry Quinn, Course Director and Professor of Retail Marketing at Ulster University Business School, said: “Today’s agri-food industry is facing a number of challenges relating to crisis management, changes in consumer tastes and the introduction of new technologies.

“Our new programme addresses these challenges by equipping future leaders within the industry with the knowledge and skills increasingly required to innovate, succeed and thrive in a highly competitive and fast changing marketplace.

“Through effective leadership, a competitive food industry can help the Northern Ireland economy to grow in the post-Covid business environment.”

The programme has been developed in partnership with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, ensuring that it meets the needs of current and aspiring leaders working in farming or agri-food production.

Michael Reid, Chief Executive Officer, Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, commented: “It has been exciting to work with Ulster University Business School to bring this much needed leadership qualification to the table.

“A chance for future leaders in the agri and agri-food industry to undertake relevant hands-on study in Northern Ireland is finally here with the support and foresight of many in YFCU and DAERA.”

The programme is practical and interactive, using insight from case studies and expertise from inspirational thought leaders working within the agri-food industry, including Jack Hamilton, Chief Financial Officer at Mash Direct, and Alan Gibson, Chief Commercial Officer at Devenish Nutrition.

Participants will benefit from best practice field trips to showcase how leading local agri-food players such as Finnebrogue have diversified, innovated and grown highly successful businesses through strong and effective leadership.

They will also gain insight into key market trends and access to Ulster University Business School’s new Consumer Insight Lab, which houses two Virtual Reality retail stores used to understand consumer buying behaviour.

Currently, bursaries are available from the Thomas Henry Foundation in Downpatrick to support suitable candidates from Northern Ireland in the learning on the advancement and promotion of agricultural science.

n For more information on the course and how to apply please visit www.ulster.ac.uk/courses/202122/management-practice-developing-leaders-in-agri-food-26979 or contact the Course Director Professor Barry Quinn at b.quinn@ulster.ac.uk

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