Strawberries NI was a small group of 6 strawberry growers that applied to the Supply Chain Development Programme, a scheme under the NI Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. They received facilitation and specialist mentoring to develop their group and enhance the understanding of their market. They completed training, participated in study visits and built a brand for their product.
Strawberries NI was accepted onto the Supply Chain Development (SCD) programme in 2012. This Programme sought to improve the marketing of agricultural produce through developing a culture of collaboration between producers, processors and stakeholders.
The SCD programme was primarily aimed at early stage enterprises/projects (producers, farmers and food producers) which had not yet developed relationships with their supply chain partners. It sought to move them to a stage where they were confident to adopt new supply chain processes and offers the opportunity to gain greater knowledge in relation to what processors and retailers are looking for in order to satisfy the market for their product. This was achieved by a team of experienced Facilitators and managed by the Project Manager acting as Lead Facilitator.
The SCD measure included study tours which provided a platform for networking and gave producers an opportunity to promote their product to a wider market. Further support provided to groups included training and Specialist Mentoring, business tools, and co-operation support. The measure was implemented by Countryside Services Ltd as part of the Countryside Agri Rural Partnership.
At the time of applying to the Programme Strawberries NI was a small group of 6 strawberry growers, who recognised their inability to compete with imported strawberries as they had weaknesses in their supply chain, growing methods, and quality and consistency of supply.
Their main objectives were:
- To develop a strategic alliance with a Producer organisation or set one up themselves,
- To establish a proper system of production and supply, and
- To create a new and innovative local brand.
Through the expertise of a facilitator, Strawberries NI developed into a mutually supportive, solid, and focused group with a clear vision and agenda for pursuing their business interests. In accordance with their agreed Action Plan they have benefited from:
- 50 days Facilitation support,
- 6 days support in the form of 3 visits from leading agronomists,
- Completed 2 Study Tours, one to Holland on 28th - 30th October 13, and one to England on 1st May - 3rd May 13,
- Completed City and Guilds accredited training in “Growing Techniques and Pesticide Spraying”,
- Developed a new brand, website and logo, focused on the advantages of ‘loving local’ for the market in NI.
Strawberries NI engaged in a process of developing a quality system and standards for growing and supply that will begin to close the gap between NI growers and market leaders. They have now gained the understanding of the market, and the technical knowledge and skills they need to accelerate their growth potential. They have developed several new supply chain contracts with substantial retailers and are encouraging more growers to join them.
The number of members has increased and in March 2014 they established the Northern Ireland Soft Fruit Growers Association to support the interests of members and soft fruit growers generally. They have also become members of the NI Horticultural Forum and the Northway Producers Organisation. They are planning further investment and intend to apply for further support in the next NI Rural Development Programme.