Just how can a French cows-milk cheese produced in a mountain-region, by around 175 small- scale cheese-makers, sourcing milk from over 3000 family farms, be sold on retailers’ shelves around the World? It is also one of France's own favourites. When one is asking how family farms can be reconnected to the consumer, it is worth investigating. The Foundation will be doing so.
France is, without doubt, one of the World’s premier producers of fine foods. Yes, the country does have a significant large-scale farming sector but at the same time it has maintained a smaller-scale, more-artisan, foods sector. The latter does benefit from a tradition of direct to consumer marketing [the French market] but it is also the foundation for exports of fine foods.
One of the pillars of the French approach to fine-foods creation has to be its appellation d'origine contrôlée [AOC] system that links products to the soil [the terroir]. The AOC has long been known in the wine industry but it is becoming increasingly common across a range of other food. It is now being reinforced by EU designation. The AOC gives the consumer confidence about the origin of the product, its quality and how it is produced, both on farm and during processing. To a degree the AOC also limits production and that is valuable in protecting the producer from short-term price volatility. The AOC also provides the producer with unique-selling-points protected by law.
Ireland has a history of commodity production. It is not going to change anytime soon and one can assume that 80-90% plus of farmers will have to continue in such a vein for the foreseeable future. The Foundation’s focus is, nevertheless, on the other 10-20% and on encouraging them to develop niche-market, premium, fine-foods products for both the domestic and export markets.
It is when considering the premium segment of the international food market that one appreciates that there are lessons to be learnt from the French producers. It is why the Foundation intends to research how the French operate and have achieved their position of pre-eminence. It will also seek to build partnerships with the upper echelons of the French farming and food industry.