“Food Isn’t Just For Chefs, Housewives And Weirdos Anymore” - Our Food Connect Event In Review

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Budding entrepreneurs, business managers, distributors, investors and insatiably curious foodies packed into Temple Bar’s Button Factory for LovinDublin’s sold-out Food Connect yesterday which was kindly sponosored by Mazars, Deliveroo, Bord Bia and Opengastro.

Laden down with goodie bags containing Keogh's Crisps, Skelligs Chocolate, Herbel Crest drinks, Dr. Coy's Chocolate and Proper Corn, attendees seated themselves in the auditorium amidst a buzz of anticipation.

Under the gentle glow of the event’s pink logo, M.C. (and indeed, M.D.) Graham Kinsella introduced the event and brought out the first guest, Green Saffron’s Arun Kapil. Arun’s spirited presentation set the tone for the day, which began on a bright note and continued at a healthy intensity throughout.

Moving swiftly into the first group discussion, the ‘Build It Panel’ provided experienced insights and considerations surrounding the best ways to develop a food or drink business from the conceptual stage to flourishing enterprise. Segueing into aspects of design, Iain Slater from Slater Design described his entry into the field (his early business days summed up as: “denim jeans, camo pants, attitude”) while convincingly arguing the case for putting your own personality into your brand as a path to success and fulfilment.

Like Arun, Iain’s parting remarks offered a thoroughly ambitious picture of the future of his project. We were only an hour in, but already in these moments there was a sense of electricity tingling in the air.

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Following this, Iain took a seat on the ‘Brand It Panel’ and was joined by a talented and youthful group of brand strategists from different areas. The characterful exchanges in this discussion constituted one of the highlights of the day.

Sober Lane’s Ernest Cantillon simultaneously entertained the crowd with guerrilla marketing anecdotes while providing some great tangible insights on generating consumer interest for smaller-scale food and drink businesses. Between them, the panel parsed some important considerations related to the often frustratingly abstract concept of ‘brand identity’.

“Branding is the DNA of a business”, offered Press Up Entertainment’s Garvan Smith. Such ideas indeed struck a chord with the audience of the event: John McGee and Riva O’ Malley of Black Castle soft drinks spoke to me at the interval of the worth of hearing such words, “it reinforced what we’d been thinking before about our brand, which draws upon Irish people’s fondness for flavours like red lemonade; it’s vital to have an identity behind it”.

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Next up was Anis Harb from Deliveroo, who gave an exciting talk on this new-concept food delivery business with high potential for large-scale growth. Anis’s presentation focused on the identification and the taking advantage of previously unseen voids in business models. This was a topic mulled over heavily by many audience members. “You’ve got to be conscious of having a quality edge in a busy market”, agreed Dave Smyth, who attended to develop ideas and forge contacts for his planned café business.

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The ‘Food Tech and Trends Panel’ added further depth of conversation to the occasion, with the likes of FoodCloud’s Iseult Ward and Andrew Rudd of Medley supplying concise pieces of advice on the role of technology in developing working businesses and spotting trends in the food industry.

This panel also benefited from Chapter One’s esteemed chef, Ross Lewis, who waxed lyrical about food trends over the years before putting forward the burning question, “what’s going to be the next pulled pork?”, to the crowd’s delight, appreciation, and indeed, collective intrigue.

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After this came the turn of Loyd Grossman, who delivered the keynote speech. Grossman effortlessly developed an immediate rapport with the audience, even resting his elegant frame on the edge of the stage, softly dangling his legs off the edge, as he peppered his insights with perfectly measured anecdotes.

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On the ‘Fund It Panel’, chairman of Bord Bia and investor Michael Carey delivered a well-received introductory speech littered with clever dark humour as an entry point to debating topics such as cash flow-awareness, the pros and cons of attracting investment, and exit strategies. These were mulled over with vigour by Derek Butler of Grid Finance and Lovin Group’s own Niall Harbison.

Speaking after the event, Richmond Marketing’s Niall McGrath expressed his admiration for Carey’s points, commenting that he, like many of the attendees, felt compelled to suddenly open up Evernote and start jotting down racing thoughts.

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Rounding off the day, Noel Kinsella of Salesfinesse charmed and motivated the crowd with lucid thoughts on the relationship between physiology, demeanour and success. The flurries of note-taking in the audience seen in other talks changed to phone-recording, as devices sat diligently on laps during this brief class in the power of positive thinking. He was then joined by Barra McFeely, buyer at Tesco responsible for buying 30% of fresh food for Tesco Ireland where they discussed how suppliers can open up dialogue with Tesco.

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Among presenters and attendees alike a sense of purpose and enthusiasm was permeating. Tommy Doherty from Mazars, a participant on the ‘Build It Panel’, commented that a sense of togetherness wasn’t only limited to the networking side of things: “even looking out on the audience while speaking, everyone looked thoroughly engaged”.

Garret Connolly of Baggot Street Wines and Chantal Halley - the manager of its upcoming restaurant project, Cavern on Baggot Street – additionally highlighted the charisma and inspiration of the speakers’ stories. “Arun Kapil was hand-packing sachets of spice and heading off to farmers markets, then he’s creating a range for Tesco,” Garret mused, “and now he’s going global; it shows you that sky’s the limit”.

Things wrapped up in Crowbar with some top quality food from the lads at Staple Foods, accompanied by beverages from Teeling Whiskey and Jack The Lad beers from Vanguard Beer Collective. There was an vibrant and energetic buzz about the room, as attendees chatted to speakers in an informal setting, with tunes blaring in the background.

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Untapped potential was a common theme among conversations around the room. Indeed, the very range of interested parties coming together with so many ambitious plans seemed plain confirmation of Loyd Grossman’s gleeful remark: “food isn’t just for chefs, housewives and weirdos anymore”.

Written By

Evan Musgrave

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