There is nothing that can be done to change the concentrated power of supermarkets, according to Dawn Farm Food CEO Larry Murrin, but fairer prices must be paid and charged in every part of the food supply chain, he said.
Speaking at the RDS Lecture Series in Dublin, last night, he said the Irish food supply chain is out of balance at the moment and this must change. “A race to the bottom does not work.” Speaking about the company’s decision to exit the Irish retail sector, he said it was an emotional decision to leave, but a necessary one. “We needed to reset our business priorities and our aim was to maintain employment.” He also said that UK supermarkets understand the value of a good supplier, when asked why the company still operates in the UK retail sector.
Food Harvest 2020 is a tremendous road map for the Irish agri-food industry, he said, but warned that Ireland must be careful that rhetoric does not get ahead of reality. Mid-sized companies, he said, are the lifeblood to the country at the moment and those in the agri-food sector need particular attention. “We also need to grow small and larger businesses, while we must also focus on the environment.”
Food safety standards and trust, with consumers and customers, are key to success in the food industry, he said. He praised Origin Green and said the Bord Bia scheme will have paid for itself in 10 years time.
Dawn Farm Foods, which was established in 1984, grew from taking opportunities, good fortune, good wisdom and a little luck, he said. He pinpointed a major turning point for the company – when it secured a huge contract with Pizza Hut in 1988. However, this was also the start of a perfect storm, when sterling collapsed, the price of raw materials spiked, and a food safety incident almost ended the company. “Relationships were key to holding onto customers.” Consumer demand was decreasing, he said, as the worldwide financial crisis occurred and the dioxin crisis happened with Irish pork. Mentoring and coaching staff, he said, has been a key policy of the company. Building up lots of air miles helps keep customers, but staff must own some of these relationships, he said.
Today, Dawn Farm Foods has 450m consumers eating its protein products worldwide.