Leitrim is poised to create significant new employment in the food sector with the launch of the brand new “Food Strategy 2017- 2021” for the county which took place on Tuesday, March 7 at the Landmark Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon as part of Local Enterprise Week 2017.
Food producers, food tourism attractions, growers and chefs from all over the county gathered to celebrate the launch of this significant document and created a wonderful showcase of the special food offering in the county.
The Leitrim Food Strategy, commissioned by Leitrim County Council and the Local Enterprise Office Leitrim, has set ambitious targets in the creation of 250 new jobs in the sector.
There are currently at least 534 full time equivalent employees in the food sector, excluding agriculture. Leitrim is somewhat unique in that, there has been no one large “Food” employer in the county since the closure of Bo Peep jam factory in Drumshanbo with the loss of 100 jobs in the 1990s.
Rather, employment is diversified across smaller food businesses; hard working businesses connected to their communities.
Launching the strategy, Leitrim County Council, Chief Executive Frank Curran said that “the development of this strategy is a very positive one for the food community in County Leitrim, the 8 priorities identified are hugely important to build upon.
“Leitrim has a fantastic reputation and the capability to do great things when it comes to food, we have a natural and un-spoilt environment.
"The added value of the Food Hub which is doing phenomenal work in terms of social enterprise, the Organic Centre as a centre of excellence in terms of organic food and training and our food tourism trails which span the county are an excellent platform to build on.”
There is a strong interest in the formation of a Taste Leitrim trade network to share experiences, create new connections and build collective strength. Some of the actions addressed in the strategy include the creation of a Directory & Sourcing Guide, Network Development and an Ambassador Programme.
Growing exports, support innovation and putting farmers and growers to the fore are some of the 8 themes. There is a strong focus on food tourism with the target of an annual spend of €28 million on food and drink by 2021.
Orla Casey of Leitrim based Momentum Consulting was commissioned to write the Strategy and highlighted that their research shows that there is positivity in the sector.
“80% of Leitrim food producers and places to eat reported a slight increase in turnover in the last year and 1 in 3 Leitrim food businesses have plans to expand.
"Leitrim has and is playing a leadership position in the areas of food incubation infrastructure, organics, social farming and Slow Food. Best practice is part of our psyche.”
Joe Lowe, Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office expressed that “this is the start of an exciting era for our amazing food community. Good things happen when we share our experiences, success, talent, and ingenuity. The strength within the food sector in County Leitrim lies within working together and supporting each other to create a bigger united impact.”