John Hood Looks at Invest NI Design Development Programme

The below article was written by John Hood, Invest NI Director of Food and Tourism for the publication Farm Week.

Working with companies on the Invest Northern Ireland stand at the recent SIAL exhibition in Paris, the world’s biggest trade show for food and drink, I also had an opportunity to see at first hand the importance of design, packaging and marketing in an intensely competitive industry. These are important activities which Invest Northern Ireland is helping food and drink companies here to master.

Among a number of initiatives that we’ve developed to enhance an individual company’s marketing focus is our popular Design Development Programme (DDP), which has included specific programmes especially for food processors and artisan producers.

The DDP aim is to assist companies to maximise the market potential of their products through the application of established marketing techniques.

What DDP offers is funding for an individual company to tap into the expertise and talents of an established design studio, and there are several here which have extensive expertise gained working on a one-to-one basis with smaller food enterprises.

DDP is intended essentially as the first stage on a long-term journey to marketing success.  It is an introduction to key marketing skills that companies require for sustainable business growth in a moving industry.

The programme enables a professional designer to work closely with the management of an individual company in the development of an agreed design concept for the corporate identity encompassing a product brand, a packaging format and merchandising materials.

Standing out from the crowd in such a dynamic marketplace presents quite a challenge especially for smaller companies with limited resources. But success at home and abroad generally depends on the extent of a company’s commitment to key marketing techniques such as branding, packaging and merchandising. Interestingly, several of the smaller companies at SIAL won plaudits from buyers on the quality of their branding/packaging. Some are DDP ‘graduates’ and are doing worthwhile business in Europe and the Middle East.

Indeed I was thoroughly impressed by the determination of all the local companies involved at SIAL to boost sales to international markets. In total 25 local companies exhibited or visited SIAL 14, the largest number ever to attend the global event. We hosted our biggest- ever Meat Pavilion in Paris as well as a second stand in the International Hall which featured many smaller companies.

The participation of such a strong representation of our food companies at SIAL 2014 was a further demonstration of the inherent strength of an industry which has continued to grow during the economic recession and is poised to take advantage of new business opportunities developing particularly in the international marketplace. Statistics from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Size and Performance of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Industry show an impressive growth of 6.7 per cent in 2013.

The presentations at SIAL were also an integral part of our strategic approach to help boost food exports by means of regular participation at major international trade shows, by organising business missions to key markets in Europe, the US, the Middle East and Asia Pacific and by a programme of ‘Meet the Buyer’ events in which local companies are given opportunities for one-to-one pitches with leading buyers from major supermarkets and foodservice organisations.

The need to strengthen a market-led approach in all sectors within the £4.5 billion industry has long underpinned our work with local companies, both large and small, and, of course, was a key recommendation of Going for Growth, the strategic action plan tabled by the Agri-Food Strategy Board (AFSB).

Turning our supply chain around into one totally focused on the needs of a fast moving marketplace and able to respond quickly and effectively is vitally important, and one which we will explore how best to achieve by the 2020 target date with the AFSB sub groups.