Irish fresh produce company Keeling Group plans to develop a national food sector hub out of its base in North County Dublin, its chief executive told the Independent over the weekend.
"Our plan is to build up a center of excellence in food," said Caroline Keeling, who runs the group. "Hopefully, over the next 10 years a center where there are support services, where all the companies are competing but also benefiting from efficiencies will be developed."
"It's called Food Central, and ideally, over time, we can develop other food businesses to base themselves here.
A master plan for the development of the 250-acre food industry park has been prepared in consultation with Fingal County Council and zoning for the area has been approved, with investment understood to be in the region of €30 million.
"We're ideally located for Dublin Port and Dublin Airport, so for anyone who is importing or exporting we're well situated," said Keeling.
"We're 17 miles maximum from 75 percent of the retail shelf space in Ireland. The further you are logistically the more it starts costing you money. A centralized facility can consolidate on transport in or out," added Keeling. "We'd be very happy to have competitors here, for one we have Donnelly's (a rival fruit distributor) who we compete with are right here, but if there's something we can do to reduce both our costs and that can reduce costs to the consumers it's got to be good."
Also based at the site is Pallas Foods, but the plan is to attract in many more and to have a research and development base.
It could also be a development hub for food start-ups. "There should be room for that when we get up and running," Keeling said. "It should make sense to see if we can set up some incubator hubs. We're talking to Enterprise Ireland to see if there's a possibility of doing those kind of things."
"Our belief is the more businesses we can get on site the more options there are to reduce costs for them and for us," said Keeling. "How else do we make ourselves more efficient on a small island and compete against the UK and big companies trying to come in to the food industry that have scale already and have a much lower minimum wage? Their costs can be lower which means we have to find ways and means of being smarter."
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