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First create an Irish designated quality and origin scheme

Acquiring a designated origin label at the European level is not an easy task. One should also ask if it is the appropriate focus to have if little has gone before. Where there is little product history we would recommend that one first creates a voluntary certification scheme locally. When doing so it is then important to ensure that the scheme meets the requirements of its participants, that the product suits the farmer and/or processor and that the tangible product and its broader, holistic characteristics it appeals to the multiple-issues aware consumer. It is also important to verify that the rules of the scheme are practicable and that the product and the scheme provides the foundations for the marketing of the product in a genuine, transparent and factual manner.

 

When designing a voluntary scheme it is important to ensure that the scheme can actually benefit its participants. There is evidence to suggest that geographic designation alone may not deliver significant benefits to the farmers who supply the raw material into a designated-origin product's supply-chain. A scheme may need to be geographically narrower and more 'in-depth'. There needs to be clear links between what is produced on farm and how it is produced, the processing and the marketing. For example, the easier it is for farmers within the scheme to procure animal feeds from outside the locality [less geographic restrictions], the lower will be the benefits to the farmers. To put it simply, for a scheme to succeed, the scheme has to create some exclusivity.

 

It is our intention to first concentrate on developing products and their associated schemes within a national context. It will be about the needs of local farmers and rural communities and it will be about supplying local Irish consumers. The schemes will be created and designated ‘in-house’ by ourselves and our partners. As it is Ireland and Ireland has to be a food exporting nation, we will, nevertheless, not lose sight of what is needed by international consumers and export markets and the European-level registration of products and their designated quality and origin schemes.

Premium product creation and designated-origin registration

To put it simply, Ireland has a history of commodity production. Its presence in the retail markets of the United Kingdom, the country's primary export market [by a significant distance], reflects this. The country, rightly, has aspirations to be a premium foods producer but to achieve this it has to develop the very premium products upon which its reputation can be enhanced and developed.

 

The work of the Foundation is focused upon enhancing incomes for family farms and the rural communities within which they exist. Key to this is adding value to farm-produced 'raw materials'. It is about creating premium products with unique-to-Ireland selling points and it is about protecting these products by building a story around them that makes them readily identifiable by consumers in the market place. This is about a product and a genuine, factually-based story and then, at the appropriate time, seeking to officially register the products under EU designated-origin legislation.

 

Ireland has very few officially-recognized, designated origin products [that partly reflects a history of commodity production]. This needs to be rectified over the coming years. To facilitate this, the Foundation will seek to develop designated-origin-product initiatives in parallel. For example, its work in the beef and sheep sectors should eventually lead to broader Protected Geographical Indication [PGI] designated-origin products and narrower Protected Designation of Origin [PDO] products. Its Creamery project is seen as an 'incubator' for artisan products that can, in time, evolve to become products that are unique and protectable under the EU designated-origin laws.

 

Premium, artisan and designated origin - the French approach

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.

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