In the new special report, Helping Organizations Chart a Course to The New Better, Aon reveals exclusive research on the issues rising from the COVID-19 crisis and methods of re-introducing fundamental aspects of society and the economy: working, traveling and convening.

As part of this new report, leading global businesses and innovative thinkers reveal their strategies and action plans as they make their way to a New Better.

Here’s Bord Bia’s story.

Ireland’s food industry plays a major role in its economy — in 2019, Irish food and drink represented a record €13 billion ($15 billion) in exports to 180 different markets around the world. Bord Bia, the Irish food board, exists to support Irish producers, farmers, and companies’ growth and sustainability.

Headquartered in Dublin, with an additional 15 offices around the world, Bord Bia helps Irish food and drink producers maintain a significant global presence. Even though the global pandemic played havoc with their global model, Bord Bia drew on their past experiences in navigating crises and saw the disruption as an opportunity to innovate.

“Crisis management is a part of the trade for our industry; it’s a high-risk industry, and we have to be ready for a worst-case scenario all the time because we feed and provide nutrition to the most vulnerable, be it infant formula or others,” says Tara McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer, Bord Bia. “When it comes to food safety, we have a zero-risk mentality.”

Food safety is not the only risk Bord Bia is well-prepared for; political and economic shifts can have swift and severe impact on their business. “At the time of the Brexit vote in 2016, 44% of Irish food exports were going to the UK,” says McCarthy. “So we responded in a data-centric way.”

The organization, together with its exporters, quickly mapped all supply chains and put plans in place for a number of scenarios. This came into play when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But still, there were new challenges, such as the route to market and outlets for Irish food products. Bord Bia immediately put a crisis management team in place, and began to focus on management and innovation in six workstreams:

  • Internal preparation and mitigation: Trade events, press visits, and other key Bord Bia business initiatives were canceled. “We needed to pivot fairly quickly to get that reorganized,” said McCarthy.
  • People: Bord Bia focused on ensuring people were supported as they shifted to remote work, bringing them along on a new journey. In addition, the organization looked to the future, thinking through what the new office would look like and how to train people on new safety measures.
  • Understanding: As McCarthy says, “Back in March, information was difficult to get — things were very opaque.” The organization focused on creating an information network, getting clarity and information from all sectors and markets back to Dublin and published as quickly and regularly as possibly.
  • Support: Bord Bia focused on helping Ireland’s producers, food companies, and farmers navigate their way through the crisis. “We turned around within two weeks a complete grant system to help companies make pivots — going from food service to retail, for example, required new packaging, and that is an investment. We had companies who would have been planning to go to trade shows, but now had to invest in their website instead. So we were helping them to do this.”
  • Future-proofing: McCarthy notes that in past events, such as recessions, people are not always ready for the recovery. “So we wanted to be ready for the end and prepared for the fundamental shifts that were likely to stick.”
  • Navigating change: As the world changes, Bord Bia has focused on keeping pace. The way people and businesses communicate through the pandemic has changed, requiring a change in messaging and format. Peoples’ relationship with food is also changing. “We have to keep pace with how consumer thinking and behaviors shift, and the convergence of several trends, such as an increased focus on sustainability alongside more plastic-wrapped items due to food safety.”

All of these workstreams became the foundation for a toolkit that helped build the organization’s and industry’s innovation agenda. “A lot of these trends — digital, functionality in food — were happening anyway, but they have been accelerated,” says McCarthy. “Our Risk Readiness Radar with over 128 Irish companies confirmed this.”

From pivoting to virtual trade fairs and bringing chef demos online to energize consumers to incorporating sustainability more deeply in their business, insight and innovation has been key.

“We fundamentally believe that insight and innovation is core to the business and that we need to keep driving the excitement of our industry. That includes workstreams that attract top talent,” says McCarthy.

And people insight is also a priority. “We’re navigating the new world of virtual in a people business, and making sure our values and connectivity with colleagues shine through. The people part of our business is a huge focus — we are helping our people build resilience and connectivity for the future.”


This case study originally appeared with the special report, Helping Organizations Chart a Course to The New Better. Check out the full report for defining moments of the pandemic, case studies of leading companies navigating change, key insights, and more.