61% of food businesses are working with environmentally-conscious suppliers, according to a new report.

Today (Thursday, September 10), ifac published its 2020 Food and Agribusiness Report, its third annual sentiment survey of Irish food and agri-business small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The survey was conducted by Amárach Research during June and July of this year – which ifac notes was “a very challenging period for many Irish businesses”.

The report found that some of the top priorities for food and agri-business SMEs are measures to tackle climate change, from managing waste and byproducts to choosing sustainable packaging and energy saving initiatives.

34% of food businesses see sustainable packaging as the top trend impacting their business, according to the report.

When dealing with climate change, 71% of businesses are purchasing sustainable packaging and reducing use of plastic and 78% are managing waste and byproducts.

Along with this, 61% are working with environmentally-conscious suppliers, with 56% investing in energy saving initiatives.

David Leydon, head of food and agri-business at ifac, said that it is “evident that sustainability is important”.

He said this can be seen through the communication of Irish food credentials, along with climate change measures being taken, such as: managing waste and byproducts; purchasing sustainable packaging; and choosing environmentally-conscious suppliers.

‘Pressure points’ of Covid-19 and Brexit

Despite the impacts of Covid-19, along with Brexit being a “pressure point” for food and agri-businesses in Ireland, the findings of the report uncovered some positive signs too.

John Donoghue, chief executive of ifac, said that he encourages food and agri-businesses to “shore up their defenses, innovate like never before and embrace change”.

Ifac notes that SMEs are demonstrating “agility and resilience” despite the challenges, with many “reacting quickly to deal with Covid-19”.

So much so, that nine out of 10 SMEs in this sector expect to employ the same or more people in the coming year.

According to ifac, the pandemic has “accelerated existing digital trends” with a strong move to online – there has been a 54% increase in the number of food and agri-businesses that are trading online as digitalisation increasingly affects every part of Irish businesses.

‘This is a resilient sector’

David Leydon said that while investment in automation is still low, a quarter of those surveyed believe investment in new technology and automation will be “one of the long-term impacts from Covid-19”.

He added that it will help them “to save costs, build resilience and redeploy their teams to higher-value work”.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said that as part of the country’s essential services, “the whole of the agri-food sector has played a key role through the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“The is a resilient sector; it is also positive to see the range of climate change actions being undertaken by businesses.”

Key findings of ifac’s 2020 Food and Agribusiness Report include:
  • Six out of 10 SMEs utilised one or more of the Covid-19 supports; the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme was utilised by 39% of businesses;
  • Optimism levels have dropped to a three-year low; down from 74% in 2018 to 55% in 2020;
  • Nine out of 10 businesses intend to maintain or grow employee numbers over the next year;
  • 34% of businesses do not invest in formal research and development;
  • Nearly one-third of respondents would consider selling their business in the next five years;
  • Only 36% of businesses have a documented and used strategic plans;
  • 54% increase in the number of food and agri-businesses trading online.