I thank the committee for the invitation to address it today. I am joined this afternoon by my colleague, Eileen Bentley, who is our entrepreneurship manager, and by Colette Twomey, the managing director of Clonakilty Food Company.
As many members of the committee will know, Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, provides a link between the Irish food, drink and horticulture industry and existing and potential customers throughout the world. Bord Bia's mission is to drive, through market insight and in partnership with industry, the commercial success of a world-class Irish food and drink industry. Over the next five minutes or so, I would like to share with you a brief overview of our strategy, in which I will feature a number of our key services for both small and large companies. I will, as requested, also touch on Food Academy. I will close with a case study of an indigenous success story - that of Colette Twomey from Clonakilty Food Company, owner of the Clonakilty brand of black pudding.
Bord Bia's current strategy is built on four pillars. The first is Origin Green, which has as its ambition for Ireland to be a world leader in sustainably produced food and drink. We are currently well on our way on this journey, with 431 companies now signed up to our Origin Green initiative, which was launched in 2012. Today, almost 80% of our exports are now supplied by Origin Green verified companies. Our plan going forward is to have 100% of our exports from companies on the Origin Green journey by the end of 2016. This initiative is a world first and continues to gain momentum as it meets the needs of our key customers throughout the globe. The second pillar of our strategy is enhancing competitiveness, under which we focus on the provision of insight, education and competency support programmes for companies and executives in the food industry. Market and consumer insight are at the heart of our work, with our research, insight and strategic branding specialists acting as the voice of the consumer. Our mission is to use consumer and market insight to drive business growth for our clients, whether smaller startups or well-established businesses. Within this pillar we also invest in entrepreneurs through Food Works, a joint initiative undertaken with Teagasc and Enterprise Ireland, as we look to support the next generation of high-potential food startups. Attracting the best talent to work in the food industry is also relevant, and through our partnership with Smurfit Business School our fellowship programme is succeeding in attracting more than 500 applications for just 20 places each year.
Under our third pillar, enhancing exports, we look to build case studies similar to that of Clonakilty black pudding and others in our export markets, supporting our clients with commercially focused programmes, be that through our network of overseas offices, our participation at over 15 international trade shows annually or the creation of events such as our recent Marketplace International event. Over the course of last week we hosted more than 400 international buyers, culminating in our largest ever speed-dating event last Thursday, in which more than 4,500 meetings were scheduled for the 530 attending buyers and 185 exhibiting Irish companies. Both large and small enterprises and new and well established businesses attended this event, from Glenilen to Glanbia, from Aryzta to Boutique Bake, and from the recently established SynerChi Kombucha to the seventh-generation business Flahavan's. We expect over €30 million to be written from this event, leading to many more opportunities in years to come.
Our fourth and final pillar focuses on the creation of a vibrant home market, with activities such as quality assurance programmes and events such as Bloom and our small business open day. In the last number of years, local food has undergone a significant shift in importance, becoming central to both consumer needs and supermarket strategies. Bord Bia's PERIscope research from 2013 indicated that Ireland is second only to France in terms of the importance of local food to shoppers. Some 50% of consumers in Ireland are buying local food on a weekly basis and eight out of ten consumers believe that local food results in higher-quality products.
Ireland's food producers are ideally positioned to maintain and build local food opportunities, and Bord Bia's Vantage programme has been designed to support the smaller producers in this process. Launched in 2007, Bord Bia Vantage, which serves more than 700 SMEs with a turnover of less than €3.5 million, is a key platform that enables owners and managers to access best practice resources, expertise and processes to help build their respective markets. It consists of three pillars. Vantage Point, a dedicated website for small food businesses, was re-launched in 2015 and is a core part of the small business service, with almost 50,000 visits annually. Vantage Plus, the second pillar, is a programme designed to develop small companies' capabilities and competencies in the key areas of business and market development. Supporting Vantage Plus is the new Food Academy Start programme. Food Academy is a collaborative new initiative from Bord Bia, the local enterprise offices and SuperValu, which was launched in September 2013. The aim of the academy is to provide integrated best practice supports specific to food companies as they progress on their growth journey from startup to national distribution and export. At entry level, or Food Academy Start, the aim is to create a level playing field of food marketing knowledge across all counties and to deliver consistent information to companies in local areas as they begin their journeys as food producers. The Start programme is delivered by the local enterprise offices, supported by SuperValu, which nominates a SuperValu store manager in each county to participate on the programme and provide retailer insights and expertise. Bord Bia has designed the full course content of Start. By the end of 2014, Food Academy had reached more than 200 participants across almost the entire LEO network, with almost 100 participants securing product trials in 150 participating SuperValu stores. In November 2014, Food Academy Advance began, with 30 of the graduate participants of Food Academy Start. This programme, jointly run by Bord Bia and SuperValu, aims to take participants on a supplier development journey with SuperValu that will take businesses from local to regional and eventually national supplier status. In addition to the Food Academy programme, many producers have participated on other Bord Bia supplier development programmes, such as the Tesco Retail programme and the Ireland Food Service programme with Compass Ireland. The final pillar of the Vantage suite is Vantage Promote, which includes all business development and public relations activities for the promotion of the small business and speciality sectors. One of the key vehicles for the promotion of the sector is the annual artisan food market at Bloom. Now in its eighth year, the artisan food market is an established feature of the food village in Bloom. Adjacent to the food market is the Bloom Inn, where 14 craft whiskey, beer and cider producers showcase their products over the course of the Bloom festival. In 2014, 106,000 visitors attended the show over the five days.
The final area I will touch on today is funding. Funding for marketing is always a challenge for companies. To help businesses with a turnover of less than €3.5 million to improve their marketing techniques and capabilities, the Bord Bia marketing assistance programme provides financial support to food, drink and horticulture companies. In 2014, 186 companies were approved grants to a total of €976,000. Additionally, in 2015, Bord Bia launched a new Step Change fund, valued at €400,000. This grant scheme is aimed at companies with a turnover between €100,000 and €5 million which are embarking on a new project to take their business to the next level. In 2015, Bord Bia expects the Step Change programme will benefit at least eight high-potential Irish businesses with individual grants of up to €50,000. As the members of the committee will see from this brief presentation, there is a lot happening in the food industry at present. Over the past five years we have also enjoyed a strong flow of new entrants into our industry, which is why there are so many new programmes for startup companies.
In the committee's letter of invitation, it asked that I be accompanied by an entrepreneur, and in fulfilment of that request I invited Colette Twomey to join me. Ms Twomey will briefly bring the committee through the story of her company and the supports that she received along the way, and share with the committee her insights from the eyes of an entrepreneur.