Food companies urged to embrace global business through social media


Northern Ireland food and drink companies will be briefed on how to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to grow global business at a major innovation event in September.

Taking part in the Innovate to Grow event, which is being organised by Invest Northern Ireland with the departments of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Agriculture and Rural Development, will be Camilla Barnard, founder of Rude Health in London, an artisan producer of natural breakfast cereals, which has used social media to grow sales worldwide.

The focus of the conference is on the importance of innovation in the food industry and the support available to help local companies, both large and small, develop new ideas in terms of products, services, marketing and processes which will help them to win more business, particularly outside Northern Ireland.

Details of the half-day conference, which takes place at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) Loughry Campus on 8th September, were announced today by Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI’s Food Director, during a visit to Loughry-based companies, En Place Foods (UK) and Heavenly Tasty Organics.

Mr Mawhinney said: “Our companies now have to embrace innovative digital technology because it is increasingly driving global business and has become an important channel to reach savvy consumers. Social media, therefore, must be considered seriously within food innovation and marketing activities to grow business, particularly outside Northern Ireland.

“Websites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have millions of loyal visitors each day. Facebook alone, for instance, has over 500 million active users, which is a huge pool of potential customers for any business. And it’s a rapidly growing marketplace. These websites offer significant opportunities to promote innovation.

“By placing relevant and engaging content onto these websites, companies can build healthy business. This enables companies, both large and small, to promote new products, develop their branding, tell potential customers about their business and their achievements and also maintain an ongoing dialogue with them. This feedback can help in essential activities such as new product development, packaging and distribution.

“Rude Health has used social networking very effectively as a key driver within its marketing strategy”, he adds.

John Fay, Director of CAFRE, expressed his support for the event and said: “We at CAFRE, Loughry Campus are delighted to be jointly organising and hosting this important food innovation conference. Food businesses must innovate to remain competitive in the current economic climate.  

“Innovating to meet consumer needs for fresh, healthy and nutritious foods is crucial for the future success of our food industry. I encourage food companies to come to Loughry and explore the many opportunities available for innovation support.”

Other participants in the conference will cover innovation in activities across the supply chain. They include David Meade, an inspirational speaker who hosted the successful BBC television programme, The David Meade Project, and has also used social media to reach a wide audience.

The conference will also include contributions from local companies, including Hannan Meats in Moira, which is investing successfully in innovation.