$30 billion has been invested globally in Agtech over the past 12 months according to Aidan Connolly, CEO of Agritech Capital who was the keynote speaker at the 3rd annual South Cork Local Enterprise Office “Agritech – Revolution in Farming and Food” event. This figure represents the scale of the opportunity for Irish agtech companies who have the hunger and ingenuity to grow their business on an international scale.
Hosted by Ella McSweeney, the virtual event highlighted a number of key trends as discussions unfolded throughout the morning with insights from some of Ireland’s leading agtech and foodtech companies including; MartEye, NeighbourFood, The Little Milk Company, Moocall, StrongBó and a host of others.
Patrick Black, Food and AgriBusiness Executive with ifac has detailed key insights businesses should consider based on the comments of these agritech leaders.
Customer centric design
Product market fit is critical when bringing any innovation to market. If the product or service has not been designed with the paying customer in mind, it is unlikely to gain market traction and there is no more a discerning customer than a farmer. Ciaran Feeney, Co-Founder of MartEye explained how their online auction platform for mart sales has been extremely well received by farmers across Ireland and UK. Having conducted approximately 2,500 auctions since April 2020, their platform has undergone a number of upgrades to meet customer needs over this period. They are focused on designing a platform that creates a seamless experience for farmers of all ages and technical ability. Ciaran highlighted this when commenting that “rapidly creating new iterations of products based on customer feedback” is their main priority. Similarly, John Garvey of FarmHedge, the web-based trading platform for farm inputs has seen considerable uptake on their offering in mainland Europe, specifically Austria and Germany. John noted that FarmHedge had to quickly pivot as they realised that the “one cap fits all” approach was not going to be suitable for their customers. Once they realised this and started working with co-ops on bespoke offerings, demand increased. In a later session Kevin Murphy, Eurojet spoke about how one poultry customer in the Middle East who produces 750 million birds per year had a significant issue with the time and labour required to disinfect poultry units following a turnover of birds. Eurojet were able to implement a bespoke solution to reduce the time spent disinfecting by over 50% and multiplied across several hundred units the cost saving was considerable for the customer.
This willingness to assess customer needs and act on insights has been vital to these companies’ success to date and should be top of mind for any start-up or established business.
As outlined by Ellen Ni Cleirigh, Commercialisation Specialist with Enterprise Ireland, they are keen to support companies who have the potential to scale internationally. This is much easier said than done but there are ways to streamline the process and try to reduce the risks involved in taking this step. The Little Milk Company was formed in 2012 by a group of Irish Organic dairy farmers. Their brand has been successful in 14 countries with product listing in over 4,000 stores. Conor Mulhall, CEO highlighted a number of key tactics they used to develop their brand in international markets.
They took the “you got to fish where the fish are” approach in terms of targeting regions with a large market for organic food products. This included the USA, Germany and France
They used the established image of the Kerrygold brand in these markets to maximise opportunities with consumers who already had the positive image of Irish food and dairy products
They utilised government supports from agencies such as the Bord Bia Fellowship programme to get a dedicated resource on the ground to help with the day-to-day activation of their brand.
Ultimately these steps have led to an exceptionally strong export business for the Little Milk Company with 75% of total sales now coming from international markets. Conor concluded by saying that “selling Irish organic is easier in Berlin than in Ballina.” On the agtech side Micheal McInerney, Co-Founder of StrongBó Agritech has now based himself in Canada as part of their international growth strategy. The logic being this is the market with the most potential for driving sales. Canada also has the perfect market conditions to act as a beachhead market for their technology. This immersion in the market is a vital step which could be pivotal to the success of the product.
Both Conor and Micheal’s scenarios show us that while Ireland can be a great testing space for innovative food and agtech businesses, it may be necessary to look abroad to find a significant volume of the right customers.
Data or Data
Regardless how you pronounce it, data is all around us and it is becoming increasingly more valuable. It is often debated how farmers data and the data from their animals is used and monetised. The innovations presented as part of this virtual event, cemented the fact that data is becoming a currency in its own right or the “new oil” as Aidan Connolly alluded to.
At a user level, Ciaran Feeney highlighted how farmers are better informed now as they can study cattle trade all around the country in real time. And what does this mean for farmers? They are better positioned to forecast prices, analyse the best location to buy and sell and are not relying on maybe third hand information regarding trade.
Similarly, StrongBó Agritech can equip beef farmers with the knowledge that will allow them to decide the best time to finish their cattle and ultimately get the best price for their animal. These decisions are all driven by data gathered on-farm and analysing it to provide the best actionable insights for the farmer.
Although data clearly has great potential value, Aidan Connolly hit on something important, “Make sure the business can stand on its own two feet. The data should be the cream on top.” Many agtech innovations are focused on the data so it’s vital to ensure you are actually delivering value for your customer first and foremost.
Technology is evolving rapidly, but we’re keeping up Jack Crotty, co-Founder of NeighbourFood featured on the foodtech panel hosted by David Leydon, Head of Food & AgriBusiness at ifac. Even though the NeighbourFood concept was operational pre-Covid-19, its growth has really accelerated over the past 12 months. Jack noted how the demographic using their platform has shifted over the past 12 months. Based on the Google Analytics of their site, the audience is about 25 years older than it was pre-Covid-19. This is quite a seismic shift and indicates the older demographic are not restricted by technology. Furthermore, Stephen Fagan of Moocall noted that they have seen a real willingness from farmers to adopt new technologies. By having a solid foundation in place and support available for the not so tech savvy farmer, the prospect of using and benefiting from new technologies is really exciting for farmers of all ages.
MartEye has seen a similar shift as farmers have adapted to their system with ease. This could be partly down to necessity and partly due to the seamless user experience MartEye strive for but either way farmers young and old all over the country are using phones, tablets and laptops to buy and sell cattle on a daily basis.
These cases are clear examples of how all age groups are moving with and adapting to new technologies even if agriculture is considered the least digitised sector according to the McKinsey & Company Industry Digitization Index. While it is fair to say that COVID-19 has expedited this transition, Irish agtech companies are now delivering tangible solutions for farmers to overcome the challenges presented.
Overall, the session brought together some of the greatest minds on the current Irish agriculture scene and as these key takeaways indicate, there is much more to come from this sector brimming with potential.