Our research projects

Our academic research has centred on an understanding of the consumer and policy support for the local food and drink industry.


Research Strands

  • Assessment of the use of meat thermometers by consumers on the island of Ireland 

    Problem
    Meat has been identified a common source of foodborne disease and a public health concern. Global advice from the World Health Organisation recommends that consumers cook food thoroughly and “ideally use a thermometer” to ensure food is safe for consumption. This study sought to understand current consumer attitudes and use of meat thermometers on the island of Ireland.

    Solution
    There has been no comprehensive study of usage, ownership, and attitudes towards meat thermometers on the island of Ireland. This project has provided evidence for the rationale to change the advice given by food safety authorities for cooking meat to include meat thermometer use and for implementing a campaign to raise awareness of this new advice. Also, the study provides baseline data to use in the evaluation of an awareness raising campaign.

    Impact
    An awareness raising campaign will be launched by safefood across Ireland in 2021/22 to encourage the use of meat thermometers among consumers when cooking at home.

    Funder: Safefood

  • What’s on offer? (2018) An overview of the types of food on price promotion in a sample of retail outlets in the Republic of Ireland

    Problem
    Are foods that are on promotional offer unhealthy? This study provided an overview of the types of foods and assessed the healthiness of items found on price promotion in a sample of retail outlets in the Republic of Ireland. The foods included in the audit were categorised against the population-level healthy eating guidelines – the food pyramid – and were also analysed using a nutritional quality score.

    Solution
    Thirty five per cent of food promotions were from the top shelf of the food pyramid (foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt) indicating an over representation of these foods by ROI retailers. It is clear that promotions are considered and accepted by consumers to be a part of the shopping experience and indeed are a key influence on purchasing behaviour. However, the profit and health agendas of retailers and public health representatives remain at odds in terms of consistency between policy and practice.

    Impact
    The data on categorising foods on promotion against the food pyramid can be used to inform the development of strategies to enhance the availability of healthier food products to consumers. The exploration of consumer perceptions and buying behaviours related to foods on promotion will add to the understanding of the influence of promotions on food choice.

    Full report

  • A three-stage investigation into the Balance of healthy versus less healthy food promotions among Northern Ireland Food Retailers 

    Problem  
    Are foods that are on promotional offer unhealthy? This study provided an overview of the types of foods and assessed the healthiness of items found on price promotion in a sample of retail outlets in Northern Ireland.

    Solution
    NI retailers are currently achieving a balance in the healthiness of food retail promotions (red versus amber/green FOP categories); however, all parties agree that this should continue in the interest of achieving the identified overarching theme of making the healthier choice the affordable and easy choice. As a result of this investigation, seven evidence informed recommendations have been developed as calls to action for government, consumer bodies and NI food retailers.

    Impact
    The outcome of the report resulted in the first bi-annual retailer forum in Northern Ireland to discuss targeted issued impacting on the food retail industry.

    Full report

    Funder: Food Standards Agency and Consumer Council NI

  • LOCFOOD (Local Food as Engine for Local Business)

    Problem  
    SMEs in the local food sector are often micro in size yet play an important role in creating jobs and opportunities in rural areas. All participating regions in the project have various degrees of policies and experiences regarding the local food sector and would benefit from sharing knowledge and good practices.

    Solution 
    The project sought to improve regional policies and strategies regarding food-related micro size businesses in rural areas, to enhance entrepreneurship, business development, competitiveness and economic growth.

    Impact
    The outputs of the project included: conferences, workshops, study visits, mapping of existing policies influencing the sector, consultation responses, policy papers and a good practice guide for policy improvement that was disseminated to regional policymakers throughout Europe.

    Full report

    Funder: EU INTERREG IVC

  • First Brexit, then Covid-19: Exploring Strategic and Crisis Management in Northern Irish Agri-Food SMEs [see below]

    Problem

    In the face of Brexit and, now, the Covid-19 health pandemic, few businesses are more vulnerable than Northern Irish agri-food SMEs. Many NI agri-food SMEs have had to engage in strategic planning to prepare for the trade challenges ahead.

    To survive these unfolding challenges, NI agri-food SMEs have had to couple long-term strategic planning with real-time crisis management. Research into the nature and outcomes of these activities in SMEs is scarce.

    Solution

    Through a longitudinal, qualitative approach, this research aims to explore how SMEs can overcome the paradoxical challenge of engaging in short-term crisis management and medium-to-long term strategic planning in times of crisis and uncertainty.

    Impact

    This research aims to yield rich insights into the strategic planning and crisis management activities employed by agri-food SME leaders at different points in time, as the external environmental circumstances evolve. Outputs will include workshops and policy reports to disseminate the project results.

    Funder: BA/Leverhulme

  • DEX (Dairy Evolution neXt) Network

    Problem

    Market challenges such as Brexit and consumer interest in plant-based substitutes will result in the need for dairy farmers and producers to rethink their business models and to develop new sustainable solutions for uncertain business conditions.

    Solution

    This project will develop a sustainable network of UK and ROI social science researchers to identify common research priorities and to promote the sharing of research ideas and new methodologies in relation to knowledge exchange for innovation with the dairy farming sector (within the context of significant market changes). It will act as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and expertise, and identification of skills and capability needs of the dairy sector across the UK and Ireland.

    Impact

    The knowledge shared and created within the network will inform a research agenda targeted at providing effective support to help continue collaboration of the sector between the UK and Ireland.  Outputs will include workshop case studies, reports, and a digital resource.

    Funder: ESRC/IRC

  • Tesco Clubcard

    Problem

    Dunnhumby UK manage Tesco Clubcard shopper data, which provides unparalleled detail into who buys what and how food shoppers respond to marketing activities (in-store, on-line and on-pack). The unparalleled representativeness and unique insights provided into food shopper behaviour makes Clubcard the most expensive market intelligence to purchase. Importantly, it is of no value to food producers if they do not have the capacity to make sense of it and exploit it. In particular, the capacity of SME food producers to source and utilise Clubcard data is constrained by the lack of financial resource to source it. A further constraint is SMEs’ typically ad hoc approach to marketing and new product development (NPD) process required to exploit the data.

    Solution

    This is the rationale for the Food and Drink Business Development Centre (FDBDC) at Ulster University Business School sourcing Clubcard shopper insight to assist N. Ireland SME food producers in making sense of the data in their marketing and NPD. A key partner in the sourcing of Clubcard shopper insight in this regard is Invest NI, with FDBDC aiming to work closely with their Consumer Insight Team tasked with supporting N. Ireland SME food producers. FDBDC has a key role to offer expertise to the Invest NI team, in helping them support SME food producers to make sense of Clubcard shopper insight through systematic marketing and NPD processes.

    Impact

    Researchers at the FDBDC are working with dunnhumby UK and Invest NI to support NI SME food producers, making available Clubcard data to enable then to take informed decisions on which consumers to target and the NPD to meet and exceed their needs. This research provides vital support to NI SME food firms at a time when food consumption is changing due to COVID19, and many are having to replace lost food service business due to the challenges facing the hospitality and tourism sector.