Carol Marks, Sector Manager Horticulture, outlines Bord Bia’s COVID-19 response

In March, the country’s very necessary COVID-19 response impacted all sectors of the Irish food, drink and horticulture industry. Bord Bia responded with a crisis management plan, pivoting to support and assist client companies across as many areas as possible. A series of supports and services were implemented, the first being a review of the Marketing Assistance Programme (MAP) and Step Change Programme (SCP) grant supports.


In addition to the annual MAP and SCP grants, Bord Bia introduced a COVID Special Response Support Package to further augment the available grant packages. The overall budget for supporting clients financially was increased from €950,000 to €2m, enabling Bord Bia to reimburse up to 70% of costs involved with eligible activities for those who had already applied for the MAP/SCP grants, in addition to inviting new applications from companies with a turnover between €100,000 and €25 million (upper limit for MAP ordinarily is €3.5m) who would also receive 70% of incurred costs.

In the original round of MAP/SCP, 12 amenity and 11 edible horticulture businesses were approved, with an additional nine amenity and 11 edible applying for the special COVID grant. This resulted in a total of 43 horticulture businesses grant-aided, to a total combined of €369 thousand euro.


In response to the sudden and potentially catastrophic disruptions caused in the horticulture sector by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Horticulture Division’s Lean programme was used to offer help with business continuity. Primarily for amenity nurseries which were in the frontline of disruptions caused by the lockdown and the closure of garden centres. Growers benefited from one-to-one mentoring to help them deal with the situation as it evolved rapidly. Typical interventions included help with retail negotiation, advice on the rescheduling of loans, accessing the information on state aids available and help with cash flow plans and business plans for the remainder of 2020.

The scheme was also made available to bulb/daffodil growers who had their season severely affected by lockdowns all over Europe. To date, 11 companies have been assisted through the programme. In addition, the Prepared Consumer Foods Division launched a new Small Business Mentoring Service to support small businesses in adapting business and marketing plans post COVID-19.


Looking to the foodservice, the findings from Bord Bia’s White Paper on the impact of COVID-19 on the Irish Foodservice market was launched in national media. The paper found that foodservice will certainly see contractions in 2020 and may fall to as low as 45% of pre-pandemic spend levels by the end of 2020. However, there is positivity around the longer-term viability and resurgence of the industry as the economy recovers. The findings were disseminated in a webinar, which can be watched on the COVID-19 Hub on the Bord Bia website.


The COVID-19 crisis has already produced dramatic changes in consumer and shopper behaviour. As part of their work on ‘Future Proofing for a Post-COVID World,’ Bord Bia’s Thinking House has been tracking and tracing these behavioural shifts to provide our client companies and their customers with a rich reservoir of insight and identify behaviours that are ‘sticky’ and new behaviours that will be ‘sticky’ in a post-COVID world.

Early indicators were categorised under three key areas:
Macro Behaviour
Shopper Behaviour
Consumption Behaviour

This work has been validated in each market and has fed a series of future-proofing toolkits. The toolkits are now completed and available for download on the Bord Bia COVID Hub. Also available is our Business Continuity webinar series which has proven very relevant to clients including a series on Key Customer Management Best Practice, focusing on how to create trusted partnerships and preparing to engage with your customers.

The COVID-19 Hub on the Bord Bia website is updated on a weekly bases with the most up-to-date, relevant and useful insights, supports and services for your business. All previous podcasts and webinars are available to view.


Despite the current COVID-19 challenges, Brexit developments continue to put our sectors at risk. We continue to provide practical advice to companies on the basic principles and requirements of the new UK duties, customs compliance and Brexit. For example, the webinar, ‘Preparing for Brexit – Overview of the New UK Global Tariff Schedule,’ has a particular focus on the Northern Ireland Protocol. This is now available to view on the Bord Bia Brexit Hub, along with details of all Brexit relevant information and guidance.


As Ireland and many of our export markets begin to emerge from lockdown and face into a different post-COVID-19 world, existing risks have not gone away. In March 2020, Bord Bia launched the Bord Bia Readiness Radar, a new risk diagnostic tool assessing industry challenges across six key areas: COVID-19, Brexit, Challenges to Market Diversification, Sustainability Pressures, Consumer Insights and Innovation and Talent Management.

The findings of the Readiness Radar were launched at a virtual event on Thursday, July 2.

The Readiness Radar aims to help businesses to examine their preparedness and setting of priorities to ensure the continued success of their business in this volatile world.

As in previous years with the Brexit ‘Readiness Radar’, companies were invited to complete the Risk Readiness survey, and all who participated receive an individual, bespoke Risk Readiness Gap Analysis report focusing specifically on the results for their business.

The report highlights the relationship between the level of preparedness and impact on the six key risks and includes specific guidance on how to become more mature at managing these key risks and closing gaps where they exist. It also provides recommendations on how the company can access and engage with Bord Bia’s services in a more strategic way to develop its Risk Management strategy.

Carol MarksCAROL MARKS, Sector Manager for Horticulture at Bord Bia, is a graduate of the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, with a background in business management, publishing and PR, before returning to study horticulture as a mature student. Followed by a number of years working in private gardens and contributing monthly to a number of gardening publications, before joining Bord Bia 15 years ago, Carol works across the whole of the horticulture supply chain.