Words by Fiona Call
November 11th, 2015
Ireland’s days of being known for its potatoes and Guinness are slowly coming to an end. Since the recession hit in 2008, the country has been gradually and quietly rebuilding its economy. With that came a surge in high-quality restaurants and artisan local produce, which is helping to give Ireland a reputation for its support of independent commerce and locally sourced delights.
What’s more, various regions are trying to boost the tourism sector through festivals and initiatives. In Northern Ireland for example, the Ballygally Castle Hotel in Antrim is using its famous setting (Games of Thrones is filmed in the area) to offer a themed afternoon tea. This can only help to boost its food tourism sector with new initiatives already planned for the following year.
Meanwhile in Galway, the relaxed style of dining is gaining momentum in places such as Ard Bia, which offers the café, shop and restaurant experience all in one. Another example of multiple usage restaurants is Aniar, both a low-key Michelin star restaurant and a cookery school.
However, how is the local economy benefitting from this new growth in tourism? Whilst the recent food and drink accolades given out to top-performing restaurants clearly help to improve an area’s reputation, one factor these establishments all have in common is the nature of their suppliers.
The emphasis on locally-sourced produce and support for independent producers offers the consumer a truly local gastronomic experience. In turn, this should create sustainable exports and loyalties for producers who need consistent customers in order to survive.
On the other hand, in Cork, a need has been expressed to invest further into the artisan food sector in order to create more jobs and fully equip the sector to continue its growth. This could highlight that while customer interest has helped artisan food production to flourish, the producers do not have the funds to consistently innovate and develop their range of products further. Additionally, increased investment from the beginning would allow more people to create start-ups, have the resources to expand and subsequently boost local food production.
But what about well-known gourmet Irish producers? Jameson Whiskey is a huge example of giving Ireland a great reputation for high-quality artisan produced beverages, which is exported globally, and has experienced 26 years of consecutive growth. However, many complain that buying it in Ireland is extremely overpriced, which is crippling local economic performance.
Though this is due to the fact that Ireland now has some of the most expensive alcohol prices in the EU, the economic revival of artisan food production depends on both exports and domestic sales. The appeal of buying domestic-produced food and drink as a tourist increases when we visit another country because it is normally cheaper. This means that potential sales are reduced because the prices do not differ when tourists come to Ireland.
Consequently we end up with a local economy developing at two speeds – On the one hand, artisan produce that is being exported globally and attracting tourism, but however does not manage to feed back into the local economy. On the other hand, locally sourced produce that is being promoted in the regional and national economy, through restaurants and events, but require more investment in order to develop and grow as small businesses. In order for the artisan food sector to flourish, we need more convergence between both sides, to help start-ups gain momentum and grow sustainably, and for bigger companies to focus more on development in local regions so that they feel the benefits of production too.
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