29 May, 2023

Interview with Bord Bia: How to better understand your category

Stephanie Walsh, our Food Business Consultant talks to Fiona Twomey, Global Retail Specialist at Bord Bia about the importance of using data to understand your product category.

1. About you:

I joined Bord Bia in July 2020, working remotely from my home in Newtownshandrum in North County Cork. Almost three years on, I am delighted to be based in Bord Bia’s Global Hub in Dublin. I am part of the Global Business Development team, which means that together with colleagues from our 14 overseas offices, I am focused on identifying, building and nurturing relationships with customers of Irish food, drink and horticulture. As the Global retail specialist, I work with grocery retailers to understand their sourcing strategies, sustainability targets and how Irish suppliers can differentiate themselves to maintain and build competitive advantage. Prior to joining Bord Bia, I was based in London and held roles with ARYZTA and PwC.

2. Why is understanding the market important for suppliers?

A fundamental part of running a business is understanding the industry and environment you operate in. This means analysing the competition, the value of the market / opportunity for growth and understanding your customer and consumer base. Of course, the market is constantly changing and evolving. Over the last three to five years alone, Brexit, Covid-19 and most recently inflation have significantly impacted the way we do business and how we all, as consumers, behave, shop and interact with products.  To stay relevant and ensure that your product or proposition continues to meet the needs of your customer and shopper, suppliers and customers alike need to be agile. Whether developing a business plan, pitching to a customer, developing a product or marketing strategy, a well-informed understanding of the market is critical. 

3. What supports are available to suppliers from Bord Bia?

A Bord Bia client (i.e. supplier who manufactures, processes or grows produce within Republic of Ireland, and has a turnover of €100,000 per annum) can avail of supports in five key areas

  1. Upskill Supports: Working closely with Irish companies, Bord Bia helps to build the capability of businesses to evaluate, plan and deliver growth in strategically selected, priority markets. Our services include the Learning Zone digital platform and capability building supports through group workshops or one-to-one mentoring

  2. Focused Programmes: Bord Bia in collaboration with the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), Enterprise Ireland (EI), and Teagasc delivers the programme Foodworks. This is an accelerator programme for high potential, innovative Irish food and drink start-ups to drive growth, innovation and scale. Foodworks provides mentorship, advice, and support services to assist companies along their investment journey. As well as grant funding, participating companies can access brand development supports, packaging design, consumer research services, technical support and capability development. In addition to this programme, Bord Bia also collaborates with three key Irish retailers in delivering Lidl Kickstart, Grow with Aldi, SuperValu Food Academy programmes providing a strong platform for entrepreneurs that want to start into the food business retail landscape.

  3. Bespoke services: For Irish companies wishing to target markets outside of Ireland, Bord Bia’s overseas offices work closely with them to assess export market potential. Market study visits and market readiness assessments will be some first steps before progressing into the next level, which will include bespoke buyer meetings and market activation. Connecting with customers through Trade Shows participations or Trade Missions will enable Bord Bia clients to enhance their export potential with existing and new buyers. Services around brand development are available for brand owner companies that need to reposition the brand to regain market share, create a new brand, grow their brand presence to build more awareness, move their brand from B2B to B2C, and understand who the target consumer is or what the optimal brand proposition is. 

  4. Marketing Assistance Grants: Bord Bia’s Marketing Assistance Programme (MAP) grant helps Irish food, drink and horticulture producers enhance their performance and gain a foothold in new markets by providing financial support for a range of marketing activities. The grant is open to producers who are client companies of Bord Bia and who have a turnover greater than €100,000 but less than €3.5 million

  5. Market Information: Bord Bia’s has a specialist strategic insight team who are dedicated to leveraging market, trade and consumer insights to drive strategy development and successful business growth. A range of innovative studies are published each year, covering consumer and market trends, market intelligence and foresight. Recent topics include an inflationary impact study assessing how consumers are responding to increased costs, and study on how business can ‘cut through the carbon jargon’ and communicate transparently about their sustainability practices. 

4. What are important factors for a supplier to consider when preparing to pitch to a buyer?

The first thing to remember is one size does not fit all. It is important that a supplier tailors their pitch specifically for the retailer it is speaking with. The supplier should be clear on their value proposition for the retailer in question and not ‘retail in general’. As simple as it may sound, it’s critical for suppliers to ‘walk the aisle’ and conduct store visits in advance of meeting with a buyer – check who is currently listed in your category, how big is the range vs other retailers, does this retailer have gaps versus competitors, what are they? How will your product add value to the category? What’s different about your product versus what is already on the shelf. 

It is important to tell your story but to do so in a sharp, compelling manner i.e. who you are, what you do (referencing top sellers not entire range) and most importantly why this buyer should do business with you. 

Demonstrating an understanding of the customer and consumer is key – use whatever assets you have at your disposal to do this e.g. consult the retailer’s website, download Bord Bia insight reports and speak to people in your network who may have relevant experience.  

5. What is the best way for suppliers to engage with Bord Bia?

If you are an existing Bord Bia client, your sector manager is the best initial point of contact. They will direct you to the right person within the organisation depending on what your focus / request might be. Existing clients should also subscribe to receive the weekly Bord Bia Client Newsletter by sending an email to info@bordbia.ie. This email provides an overview of upcoming events, insight, capability development supports, etc. that might be of interest to you / your company.

I would also encourage all food, drink and horticulture companies to keep an eye on Bord Bia’s website where we frequently upload insight reports, webinar recordings and other useful content.

Companies that want to become Bord Bia clients and avail of these supports of services need to send their Client request form and the Client Engagement team will individually assess the request. Companies must have a turnover over €100k and manufacture in Ireland.

This interview was first published as part of our Cracking the Retail Code guide.