Tuesday December 1, 2020

Brexit will threaten investment in the food and drink sector

Concern over currency fluctuations and trade barriers could see stagnation of trade, warns food company boss

12th April, 2017
Food for thought...Sarah O'Connor (left) Pic: Eoin Holland

What's your name?

Sarah O’Connor

What position do you hold?

Queen Bean at Cool Foods

How long have you held the position?

Part time since 2014 and full time since November 2015.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Day-to-day it changes, depending on what stage we are at in the business but roughly myself and my business partner Isolde Johnson split up the areas we manage. I look after finance, HR, food service and some operations and then we share sales and marketing responsibilities depending on the project. Day-to-day involves setting and reviewing strategy, managing the teams goals and development and then generally getting stuck into work at the desk or out on the road selling.

What is your professional background?

I graduated with a first class honours degree from University College Cork and joined the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programme. I spent eight wonderful years there and became the country programme manager for Ireland. It was the Carlsberg job for me as I always wanted to set up my own business and I got to meet lots of really inspiring entrepreneurs and business people from Ireland and all over the world. I got to travel a lot with that role and it was an amazing learning experience. I left EY in November 2015 to go full time into the business.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

Away from work I spend most of my free time either with my family down in Cork, hanging out with my boyfriend Tim in our home in Kilkenny or catching up with friends. I spend a lot of time on the road so audiobooks are my saviour, I have a running list of my favourite business books and I ask most people I meet what was the best business book they have ever read, my list is pretty comprehensive at this stage so I am working my way through it. I just recently have gotten really into yoga, I never thought it would have such a positive effect on my body, mind and mood but all the hype is real. I go to some physical classes but given my schedule I typically switch on a youtube class at home – yoga by adrienne is my favourite. I love to cook my own food and try to meal prep at the weekend for the week ahead to make sure I am eating the right fuel and not snacking on bad stuff.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I tend to be quite an open person so nothing terribly secret pops to mind, I am a Liverpool football fan and try to get over to a premiership game at least once a year.

You are speaking at the forthcoming National Food Industry summit. What is the focus of your talk?

The focus of my talk will be our journey from one product in a farmers market to relaunching as Cool Foods – a healthy, convenience company operating in multiple verticals and expanding our product range across categories. I will be touching on range diversification, NPD and product innovation and our embracing of social media as a way to grow our brand. I hope it will be interesting for listeners as it will be practical, real-life stories of mistakes we have made, big wins and lessons learnt.

What will be the main impact of Brexit on the food and drink sector?

In my opinion the main impact will be lack of confidence and stagnation of trade; all the uncertainty brought about in terms of currency and trade barriers will encourage an environment of caution and lack of investment. People will hold off in investing and pushing business forward. I feel very strongly that many people in the UK were let down by their politicians and the impacts are going to run far deeper than anyone could now anticipate in terms of economics and social issues. I have a keen interest in politics but the past 18 months of domestic and international politics have made it less interesting to engage with and more like car crash television.

What changes do you see in 10 years time with regard to customer preferences?

I think the trend towards customisation and instantaneous service will only increase. The likes of myTaxi, Deliveroo and Amazon prime in the US make consumers more demanding for customised service. In San Francisco you can ask Alexa your home computer to order toilet paper on Amazon prime and it will be delivered to your door within 30 minutes guaranteed.

I think the trend towards healthier convenient food will only increase. At Cool Foods that’s what we are betting on. All our products are focused on three pillars of taste, health and convenience. Giving people with busy lives products which are easy to consume and fit in with their health and lifestyle goals. I also think that in 10 years time people in developed economies will be consuming more plant based protein, all the trends and technology are gathering momentum and if you look at millenials their meat consumption is reducing rapidly. If the emerging economies start to be influenced by this reduction of meat consumption or engage with some of the meat alternatives there could be a huge reduction in meat demand.

Sarah O’Connor will be speaking at the 2017 National Food Industry Summit at the Aviva Stadium on May 18. For more information and to book tickets click here.

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