access-64-team-smallThe recent Access 6 programme was a Food & Drink Channel Partner Project designed to assist small and medium sized companies in the food and drink sector. Access 6 was approved for Interreg IVA funding of €2.2 million and launched in Belfast in April 2013 with the main objectives of gaining export sales and increasing employment for the participating companies.

The project was led by the Irish Exporters’ Association (IEA) along with two other project partners, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) and Scotland Food & Drink (SFD).

In response to evidence which had shown that the regions of Northern Ireland, the border of Ireland and Western Scotland are at a disadvantage due to their location with higher logistic costs, lead times and product shelf life issues. The partners specifically focused on the challenges of accessing knowledge, management and marketing expertise to penetrate successfully the large and highly competitive UK and international markets.

The group benefited from working in collaboration which was built into the programme structure by dividing up key targets and responsibilities between the 3 partners and by creating clusters of SME’s each with a mix of companies from each region.

This created interaction between companies of different categories across the regions. Each sharing best practice and building on the experiences of each SME who shared the same objectives and were targeting the same markets.

A group of 90 companies were recruited on to the project with the objective of developing their international marketing capability by providing support and training in the areas of mentoring, market study trips, marketing and logistics.

The 90 core companies were assigned to six clusters, each aimed at a specific target market, and each comprising fifteen participants, five from each of the three partner regions. The six target markets were London and the South East, France, Germany, Benelux, Scandinavia and North America.

Each cluster was assigned a mentor who was experienced in the target market.

The mentors provided the companies with advice and support on how to develop their sales into their target export market.

The mentors also accompanied the companies on study visits to their target markets and provided them with a detailed Export Progression Plan outlining the steps they should take to further develop export sales.

A key structure of the programme was to introduce a channel partner who worked closely with cluster groups, advising and informing the companies of the needs and objectives of the Food and Drink Industry buyers. One such Channel partner working with the UK cluster was Sodexo who conducted a series of workshops directly with the group and provided specific feedback on products directly to the companies.

Michelle Hanson, Commercial Director at Sodexo UK & Ireland said, “As a large-scale purchaser Sodexo is committed to the principles of sustainable food procurement, and the Access 6 programme fits perfectly with our approach to supplier diversity. Through providing these businesses with an insight into our business and the challenges many SMEs encounter when trying to enter into the market, we will be enabling them to adapt their businesses accordingly and ultimately open doors into the foodservice market.”

The figures reported by the core companies for turnover, export sales and employment exceed the targets set for the Access 6 project. With a reported total sales turnover increase of 14.3 % including a massive 70% increase in export sales. In addition to this the 90 companies reported an employment increase of 23.5%.

Michael Bell, Executive Director, NI Food & Drink said:
“Developing Northern Ireland’s export potential is central to the continued growth of the food & drink industry. All involved in food production and processing have a role to play, none more so than our small to medium sized businesses which, with the support and input of programmes such as Access 6, will help us achieve the targets set by the Agri-Food Strategy Board in its Going for Growth strategy.

The theme of ‘co-opetition’ lies at the heart of this programme, working together to share the market knowledge, contacts and techniques which will enable our SMEs to break into and compete effectively in new territories”

The Access 6 project has left a number of legacies including an online export marketing skills development programme, an export marketing guide and a logistics support facility.

More information on the Access 6 programme and access to these online facilities are available at

Read more blogs and case studies from Food Economy Week.

If you are interested in writing a blog on a similar topic for the NCUB, please contact Kelly Stiebel, Project Manager (Food)