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On the third anniversary of the PR and supply chain agri-food crisis that has now become known as the 'horsemeat scandal', I was interviewed by Richard Halleron, of Farming Life on how today, more than ever, agri-food businesses should be prepared for a crisis in the ‘always on’ age. Here's the feature that was published as a result...

“In the wake of the horsemeat scandal, consumers want to know how their food is made and who is making it. Food is a highly emotional topic. So supply chain integrity issues have news appeal. Add to this the fact that anyone with a smartphone can have an impact on your hard-earned reputation and there is the potential for a food scare to start and spread at unprecedented rates. The last thing our farming sector needs right now is a food scare.”

“When you consider the difference in how news spreads today versus 10-15 years ago, businesses without the crisis communications capability in place to deal with a major issue are at real risk.

Take for example when traces of Nitrofuran was found in locally produced organic chicken in 2004. That story played out regionally over about 3-4 days. Fast forward to 2008 when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland ordered the recall and destruction of pork products due to the presence of dioxins and PCBs and there is a big change in the impact of that announcement. Within hours, local newspapers had run the story. 12 hours later, the international media was carrying the story and within 36 hours there were over 1,700 newspaper editorials on the crisis globally.”

“Now compare this to the more recent ‘horsemeat scandal.’ Within three days the news that equine DNA in certain beef burgers had generated over 3,000 news stories. Three years on today and the ‘horsemeat scandal’ search term generates nearly 1 million page results on Google alone. Yet of the three examples, horsemeat was the only one which did not concern contamination by a substance that presented a risk to public health.”

“Online is the engine that has fuelled this increased speed of reporting and the news cycle is now 24/7 real time. In the past, radio, TV & the tabloid press were in a race break a story first. Now digital interactions mean that everything can be public in an instant;...

The early start to get from Belfast to Hillstown Farm Shop near Randalstown in time for the launch of Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend was worth it. Not just for the Ulster Fry (it is #EnjoyNI Breakfast Month afterall) but also to hear from enterprising farmer, Nigel Logan, whose family have been farming between Randalstown and Ahoghill for the past 5 generations.

Six years ago Nigel took the commercial decision to open a farm shop and restaurant right in the middle of their farm. He changed the breeding strategy in favour of premium and rare breeds of beef and pigs. Everything is born and finished on site. They use mainly Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn beef and dry age it for a minimum of 28 days. Farm and other artisan food and drink produce can be bought in the butcher's shop or eaten in the restaurant.

Not satisfied with the farm shop's success, Nigel has since branched out into micro brewing with his own Irish stout including one called 'Spitting Llama' - after their pet llamas I assume. Some of the home brew is even fed to the cattle to produce a Kobe-type beef which is starting to join his list of award winning pork and bacon products such as Hog and Hagis sausages.

An inspiring agri-food story. We could do with more Nigel's. Bank of Ireland Open Farm Weekend takes place 18-19th June. If you like this post please feel free to share it using the icons below.


Agri-food press tour Emilia Romagna, Italy

As 2016 NI's Year of Food & Drink gets underway, I am reminded of the two agri-food press tours I attended last year in Italy. They were hosted by the Italian Guild of Agricultural Journalists in conjunction with the Emilia Romagna’s regional tourist board to coincide with the World Expo, ‘Feeding the Planet’ in Milan. Apart from a suitcase of food & drink goodies, there were a number of interesting marketing and PR observations I took back to Belfast from this ‘busman’s holiday'...

Credible branding – rooted in an authentic provenance

Emilia Romagna (E-R) is the birthplace of household brands such as Barilla Pasta and home to Italy’s biggest tomato processor, ARP. But a regional strategy of focusing on quality products made using traditional practices has created global success stories for artisan producers too. The highly acclaimed Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, Prosciutto di Parma DOP, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena PDO, and Mortadella di Bologna IGP are all made in E-R. These protected, designated origin products have a combined turnover of over €2.6 million. Specificity in sourcing and authenticity in origin of locally sourced raw ingredients gives these brands credibility and a Barilla Pasta Visit during Agri-food Press Tourpoint of differentiation which goes deeper than superficial packaging in my view.  

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