Key Takeaways from Boyden's Virtual Lunch with Bord Bia CEO, Tara McCarthy

By Francesca d'Arcangeli
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Understanding the changes in consumer behaviour is a critical part of enabling businesses to plan ahead appropriately and to move forward with confidence.

With over 3.5 billion people in or emerging slowly out of lockdown many new behaviours are being forced on us, experimented with and are bringing new learnings for business worldwide.

Tracking these consumer indicators will enable the food and beverage and food service industries to understand what behaviours will stick and emerge post crisis and to secure their future and sustainable growth.

At the Boyden virtual lunch held 28th May 2020 senior leaders and Boyden partners had the privilege of hearing Tara McCarthy CEO Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board share how Ireland has evolved into a major EU 13 billion export food brand and the ground breaking research and Future Proofing toolkit it is providing the industry.

With growth of 67% over the last 10 years reaching over 180 markets, Ireland’s biggest export partner is the UK and the biggest region it works with is the EU.

The medley of changes the industry is facing is like no other and the poll taken with the participants placed COVID-19 well ahead as the biggest challenge in the mid-term.

Providing the ‘Navigating Change’ business continuity plan validated by deep insights, Bord Bia is supporting the industry to think through what it needs to do now and tomorrow.

The Irish Food Board is a rare benchmark for other industry bodies and agencies and it achieves this through commercially driven leadership based on 4 strategic priorities to deliver sustainable growth.

Tara McCarthy shared the proprietary research undertaken and the 14 early indicators of key changes in consumer behaviour split into three key areas

Undertaken through an omnibus poll in six key countries, consumer ‘stickiness’ was measured in these key markets: Ireland, Great Britain, Germany, USA, Spain and France

The data and its implications are collated into the Future Proofing Toolkit of live resources available for industry clients and their customers to work through the major changes in the consumer landscape.

As examples one of the ‘General macro behaviour' changes is ‘Shielding’ - how consumers are choosing foods that help build immunity was one of the first changes observed with big implications for the whole health and well-being trend.

In ‘Shopper behaviour’ a key indicator is ‘Stocking up’ or ‘Stocking in’

With a dramatic shift to ‘no touch’ retailing the loose product category has seen a significant decline with ongoing implications for the packaging industry and ESG.

In ‘Consumption behaviour’ -

Whilst increased consumption of snacks has less positive implications,

With an opportunity to broaden the discussion following the active Q&A, in breakout sessions we used two of the tools available in the ‘Future Proofing toolkit’ to share insights amongst participants. On returning into the full audience in the Boyden virtual lunch, 79% of the participants felt that general macro behaviours would impact their business most in the mid-term.

The big implications for the industry Bord Bia share have big implications for talent and my personal conclusions from the Bord Bia research are as follows:

The first impact of this behavioural change shared is in the area of INNOVATION – for example in food science and food functionality towards health and well-being. We are likely to see greater cross overs and movement of talent from science led sectors such as Life Sciences and Pharma to support and drive this need for innovation.

The second implication highlighted is around the area of TRUST. Transparency around food, its origin, the safety of food will become a much bigger focus for consumers. The need for meticulously monitored supply chains and deeper granularity at all levels will require new technology, mapped processes, risk analysis and expertise new to the sector.

Thirdly Tara emphasized that the way we COMMUNICATE with consumers has probably changed forever. Brands and marketers will need to adopt new media for new audiences and create opportunities for deeper connections with consumers. Engagement and digitally driven leaders will be imperative for the future as will the culture change across the sector.

And finally, as Tara highlights, all of this is underpinned by a changing consumer around the broad topic of sustainability. Food waste is just one indicator of that change. But we expect consumers to pay ever greater attention to the health implications of the sustainable choices they make and indeed the role that social sustainability plays. The evolving need for a Sustainability leader at the Board and in driving key decision making is clear.

Many open questions remained as the session came to a close. For more information please read the Boyden Leadership Series Interview, Boyden View and visit

Our thanks to Tara McCarthy for her demonstration of exceptional leadership for sustainability and growth in challenging times.

More Blog Posts by Francesca d'Arcangeli

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