Q&A: Mark Keller Head of Sales & Marketing, Dairygold Co-op Society Ltd. & Board Member at Guaranteed Irish.

‘As we settled down to our ‘new normal’, it is important to share who is behind the scenes in Guaranteed Irish. It might surprise you that the organisation is a not for profit and all Directors, thought leaders in their own field, are voluntary. They give their time freely and each week, I hope to introduce you to them, asking them some questions that might help you and your business return to work and overcome this pandemic.

Allow me introduce you to Mark Keller, Head of Sales & Marketing at Dairygold Co-Operatives Society Ltd. who represents the agri-foods sector on the Board,’ Brid O’Connell CEO, Guaranteed Irish.

Q&A with Mark Keller Head of Sales & Marketing, Dairygold Co-Operative Society Ltd.

Firm name and address? Dairygold Co-Operative Society Ltd., Clonmel Road, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork

How many are employed there? 1,200 employees across Dairygold Food Ingredients, Dairygold Agri Business and overseas locations.

What is the USP of the firm? ‘Naturally Nourishing dairy ingredients manufactured from Grass Fed Milk from the Golden Valleys’

How do you engage with your local community? Dairygold continues to support local communities through its retail networks along with corporate sponsorships at local GAA club and county level. The Society is also a key contributor to several Government and Agency Research & Development Schemes and is a founding member of Origin Green.

What are the challenges that your business has had to face as a result of Covid-19? Our focus is on business continuity, but our priority is on the health and wellbeing of our Employees, Members, Customers and all other stakeholders. Dairygold have had to adopt new ways of working as a result of COVID-19. All office-based employees moved to remote working and will continue to do so as long as social distancing measures are in place. Our Retail Network, Co-Op Superstores temporarily closed their doors and moved to a Click and Collect Model. Since easement of Government Restrictions, our stores have been able to re-open with a controlled access model in place. Our manufacturing facilities have remained fully operational, Dairygold reached peak milk in late May processing 44,509 million litres of milk in one week. This is a record peak for the Society and given the difficult circumstances is a huge achievement.

What are you doing in your business to overcome these challenges in relation to staff? From a Customer to Factory perspective all staff were issued as necessary with proper equipment to ensure connectivity enabling where possible business as usual. My own team is working remotely based in Ireland, Spain, Germany and China and will do so for the foreseeable future as long as social distancing measures are in place. For factory-based employees significant education on safe protocols was provided – PPE was allocated as appropriate and new ‘safe/social distance’ protocols are in situ across all Dairygold locations. We engaged Risk Management Ireland (RMI) for support and advice. We implemented a Pandemic Response Steering Group who meet daily and daily Senior Leadership calls to ensure we have open communications to address compliance to all protocols and to address staff concerns.

Are you confident that the agricultural sector in Ireland can resume services as normal post Covid? I am confident that we have all the necessary plans and infrastructure in place to deal with all eventualities. In terms of business continuity, for sure we cannot be complacent and with support from Government agencies and continued employee compliance we can manage what we can control. From an industry perspective there has been significant cross co-operative discussion and contingency planning, and this will continue as required.

How has Dairygold prepared to have staff ‘return to work’ post Covid-19? As the manufacturing sites have been operating within new protocols since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic the focus has been on our Agri Business, Laboratories and essential office-based employees. At present a revised layout of walkways, desks and seating, facilities and canteens has been presented for approval at Senior Leadership level with support from RMI. There are documented protocols ready for all returning employees with a significant increase hand washing and other health & safety standards accessible throughout every location. The first phase of return to workplace is underway for essential/critical staff but this is limited. For our retail stores as per Government guidelines we are working through a phased re-opening with staff fully educated on required protocols ensuring controlled access and social distance remains a priority. Obviously as employees return we will retain the contingency to return to remote working if required and all factory protocols will remain in situ.

How would you advise others in your sector to act during this pandemic? From our perspective achieving alignment at leadership level and a fluid process to cascade instruction and compliance guidelines through employee networks and workgroups quickly and regularly has made the difference to date at Dairygold. Repetition and updating guidelines with regular communication coupled with a forum for employees to ask for guidance is critical – in one word? Communication.

What made you decide to become a member of Guaranteed Irish? Dairygold Co-Operative Society’s DNA stems from small local communities of family farms working together to sustain their livelihoods, their communities and their environment. The Provenance of Guaranteed Irish is very similar – it has grown as Dairygold has grown. We offer a range of high quality grass based dairy ingredients from Ireland’s Golden Valleys that nourishes consumers across the globe. The contribution from our endeavours works all the way back to the communities who produced the milk in the first instance. Like Dairygold, Guaranteed Irish is part of Ireland’s historical and future narrative – together being all that is good about Ireland.

Has being a member of Guaranteed Irish helped during Covid-19? There is no doubt that the Guaranteed Irish symbol is a badge of honour, a mark of quality connecting customers locally and internationally to brand Ireland. Our overall approach as a nation through this crisis has been recognised internationally – the excellent work endorsing to co-operative community effort that GI has been promoting through the crisis has and will have a long-standing impact on enhancing the brand value as a market to do business.


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